Luzcielo 0

Situated at the base of Mt. Paradyme is the sprawling and thriving municipality of Luzcielo. Its founding citizens had originally established a village nearby the banks of the crystal waters of the river Repentier, but within a few short years, had relocated a safer distance from it on account of springtime natural disasters, when melting snow from upon the mountain would cause landslides and flash floods. Over the years, the hardy residents developed a tradition of celebrating the first day of summer with a three-day festival, when they felt at last assured that the lulling and clement spring weather would not suddenly give way to calamity, and everyone could ease their guards a bit.

Luzcielo’s residents had long since devised a system of aqueducts that carefully tapped the torrents of the river Repentier at the safest possible spots. On occasion, landslides did disrupt the waterflow or at least cause partial blockages on auxiliary lines, but for the most part, the main line — which tapped into a section of the river that passed underground through limestone caves — had not experienced any problems in a good three-score years. To this day, a number of structural engineers devoted to the aqueducts kept residence in Luzcielo and devised their livelihood from overseeing the maintenance of the water systems.

Not unlike other towns, Luzcielo was loosely divided into districts differentiated by wealth. Residents of the upper quarters afforded homes that were slightly elevated with especially picturesque views overlooking the town’s market districts, farmland, vineyards, and encompassing valley. Towards the east end of the upper quarters is an especially large Gründerzeit-style mansion that the current mayor, Idris Mestenza, calls home.

But lately, the Mestenza household has been troubled.

Idris’s wife, Marcia, had mysteriously disappeared not two months ago, just when the snows had begun to thaw and spring was upon the citizens. Search parties with dogs were sent out; word was sent to neighboring towns and villages; the countryside and even people’s homes were scoured, but alas, to no results.

Idris is father to a single daughter, a creature lovelier than moonlight, who had recently come of-age and was surely to be wedded to one of the wealthy heirs of Luzcielo. Her name is Aeris Mestenza, and within two weeks of her mother’s disappearance, she had become overcome with a strange condition that left her with a pallid complexion and glassy eyes. The family doctor, also a close personal friend to Mr. Mestenza, called it an aggravated form of depression and shock and could offer no treatment or advice. “She’s perfectly healthy, Idris,” Doctor Quinado said solemnly to his longtime friend. “I could perhaps prescribe something…”

“No, no need, if she is healthy, then let her be.” Idris replied, ever intent upon honoring his daughter’s freedom. We both must grieve in our own way… he thought silently to himself.

Aeris spent her days with a cold, vacant expression that emanated an otherworldly eeriness; it was as though, some of the women gossiped, “all sense of joy had been shorn from her maidenly heart, and with it, some fraction of her soul as well.”

Despite her father’s best attempts to hide his own grief and to persuade his daughter to return to social engagements, he could not; and she, in turn, took to remaining in her room, door slightly ajar, staring out the window in her room which overlooked the road and steps that led to the mansion, as though waiting for her mother to walk up those steps.

To passerby who saw her lovely pale visage peering out from the mansion window, it was truly an unsettling sight and generated much gossip amongst the townsfolk.

Through it all, Idris had somehow maintained his mayoral duties with aplomb, despite many nights spent alone with naught but the company of a bottle of fine whiskey, reminiscing and sometimes breaking down completely to the myriad reminders of his lovely Marcia that still surrounded him. He clung ferociously to hope, like a starved lion held to a scrap of meat, though hope was a currency fast dwindling with each passing day, hour, and minute.

Some months later, when spring had nearly passed and the summer festival was approaching, a singular piece of evidence surfaced: the dress Marcia had been wearing the day of her disappearance. The dogs had missed it because, strangely, it had been in a tree. It was found by a young man who enjoyed spending his time climbing trees and had espied something fluttering in the higher up branches. To the adolescent’s astonishment, he found a dress tangled up in the branches, somewhat torn, but still in one piece.

Hope renewed by the appearance of such evidence, Idris opted at last to act upon an option he had considered only as a last and final resort: the hiring of a Hunter.

As a boy, Idris had always had a fascination for Hunters, for their renowned feats and abilities that often could only be chalked up to magic. Now, in his time of need, during the late hours of many nights, his often-inebriated mind would energetically recall tales of a particular Hunter: the one known only as S.

There were countless tales ascribed to S spanning hundreds of years: in many ways, he was more myth than man. In fact, it was quite likely there was more than one man to the legend. Each story began with a man whose name began with S: some stories called him Severyn, others Serathanos, and others still Solitus. But in every story, S would do the impossible, would accomplish feats and overcome challenges in a manner that could only be chalked up to magic.

Why, the nearby village of Fredonia, even, had a tall tale of a man named Serethahlius who had saved them from a Shadow Beast that had been combing the land, slaughtering men and women and devouring children.

Though Idris knew from firsthand experience the reality of Shadow Beasts and even believed in Dark Lords, he could not come to accept such a being as S. Why, if S truly existed and was one man — he must have been over two hundred years old!

Yet, some part of Idris could not shake the sensation that truth tinged all those tales; that S was not mere fantasy… and that his only hope resided in finding this man. “Perhaps it is delusion,” he told himself, “but sometimes reality warrants men chasing mirages…”

So Idris had put up a great reward and had poured his resources and energy into spreading word of it.

“100,000 Dahlias alive or with proof of death.”

If she was dead… then at least, Idris prayed, the knowledge would free him and his beloved daughter from the vacuum between worlds, from the ethereal and barless cage that imprisoned their minds and prevented them from moving on.

“Better now to know she is gone than to have any hope at all.” He had told himself quietly the night he’d finally decided to post a reward.

***

The summer festival came and passed. Days turned to weeks. No Hunters came forth, despite the reward. But the trail had long gone cold, so ‘twas to be expected, Idris reassured himself.

Then, one chilly autumn morning, a tall stranger garbed in a fine traveler’s cloak of darkest ebon, with a wide-brimmed hat to match, walked up the steps to the Mestenza mansion. Aeris looked upon him, expressionless, as he approached. He paused a moment, turning his head up to peer directly into her eyes.

Normally Aeris was unreactive and held her icy gaze even when passerby met her eyes. But this man… his eyes… smoldered with the heat and intensity of the burning cosmos at its inception; there was a ferocity there that broke all bounds and taboos, and a slight gasp escaped Aeris’s lips. She took a step back from the window and continued to watch the man. The man, in turn, met Aeris’s gaze for some moments before proceeding to the front door.