For as long as Jakobb could remember, he'd lived in the town of Wasthret, a big and bustling place on the far side of the continent his family kept talking about, but he could never remember the name of. He was young, only seven, and had other things to worry about, like being the leader of the Worthy Creed, a band of other children in the town who protected it from disruption and brought about peace wherever they went. He didn't actually know what the words meant, but his brother had given him the name, and he'd stuck with it.
Jakobb sighed and focussed on the pot of reeds on the far side of the room. He pushed with all of his willpower, trying to make it do something, anything! But, alas, like every other time, nothing came of his efforts, not the tiniest shift or the dimmest ember. Jakobb knew he'd never be as cool as his big brother, Drayco. His Worthy Creed was nothing more than a pale reflection of the Grand Sojourn, his brother's group.
Jakobb had always loved his brother and looked up to him for everything. Many children looked at their older siblings with awe in their eyes, but Jakkob and his friends were a different matter altogether. They worshiped their siblings, and for a good reason. The Grand Sojourn were heroes. The street Jakobb's family lived on, Laud Avenue, was named for them.
Before Jakobb had even been born, the Arbon family had moved here to Wasthret and bought the big green house three lots down from the culdesac on the right. It was a beautiful home, with a spacious backyard, which turned out to be perfect because Drayco could do magic. Jakobb's parents had long since stopped taking him to magician shows because nothing they could do would ever come close to matching Drayco's powers. They couldn't summon giant, bat-like beasts from another world to ride on, put people to sleep with a word, or bend metal poles with the force of their will.
It soon turned out that Drayco wasn't alone, though, for three of the other children on the street manifested powers different than his, but they were there, and they all shared a similar goal. That was why the Grand Sojourn was formed. Despite his youth, Jakobb had already seen his brother employ his powers for hero business once.
He and the rest of the Sojourners had been called upon when a small army of horrific creatures, daemons, Drayco had called them in all the times he'd told Jakobb the story, appeared in the streets. Apparently, they sought something, an artifact that would help their Lady Dauntiphren, Caelet, bring them victory. Drayco and his friends had repelled them and secured the item, whatever it was.
That had been two years ago, and things had been quiet. The Sojourners didn't have much to do anymore, and Drayco had been studying to go to a place called Collegium. Jakobb didn't know what that meant, but their parents were planning for his departure in only a couple of weeks. The leader of the Worthy Creed didn't want his hero to leave! He'd been trying to show some magical power of his own; that way, Drayco would have to stay to train him in using it. But, as it turned out, Jakobb's input wasn't necessary, for fate had its own plans.
The young boy was out playing Soldiers and Outlaws in the front yard with the Worthy Creed when, suddenly, the culdesac erupted with bright light. The friends all waited and watched while blinding motes of light flashed into existence in an oval shape at the end of the street. They stared, mouths agape, wooden stick swords long forgotten, as moments later, the other three members of the Grand Sojourn came running down the way. There came Eltrys with his doeskin robes, a crown of antlers, and ivy wrapped staff. Not far behind him was tall and majestic Arianne, with her huge, curved bow and leather armor. Running at the head of the pack was Jakobb's favorite, besides his brother, of course, Ky'maret, who ran without issue in her flowing red gown and held at the ready her dual, curved swords, Idol and Martyr. Jakkob had always thought she was beautiful, even though nobody had ever seen her face, or if they had, hadn't said anything about it. She always kept it covered with a gold and red dragon mask. Long, red-gold hair danced out from behind it. She was Drayco's favorite, too. He kept a picture of her hidden under his pillow.
As they ran past, Ky'maret called out. "Jakobb, get your brother; he is needed!" Her voice was powerful and commanding, and the young boy hastened to comply.
"Already here, Kym," Drayco replied. He was standing on top of the roof, dressed in his hero robes, his summoned Tepharth already beside him. Jakobb watched in amazement as his brother swung into the saddle, and with a screech, the bat-like beast swooped down and glided over the rest of them.
"You heard it, too, I imagine?" Ky'maret queried as Drayco came into earshot. Jakobb, too enthralled by his heroes to stay away, not caring what might lie ahead, followed right behind the running threesome.
"I wouldn't say I heard anything. I was studying for the entrance exams when I got this sense that I needed to be ready for action."
"Likewise," Eltrys said, the brow underneath his golden hair crinkling. "Kym and I were considering hitting the town tonight. I'm glad we postponed it. It would be awkward to be called for duty and be late.
"The world doesn't wait for heroes," Arianne concurred. "Especially not for date night or study sessions."
"Alas, 'tis the truth," Ky'maret replied ruefully.
"I only hope that it's not more daemons," Eltrys said. "Ari almost died last time, as did I."
"And it's not storming this time, so Drayco will be hard-pressed to beg aid from the Gale Laird," Ari said.
"Don't remind me," the wizard groaned. "I had a headache for weeks after conversing with that thunderous being."
"Fear not another headache, but I doubt the news we'll garner here will be positive."
"Do you know something more than we do, Ky'maret?" Drayco wondered, but if the dragon-masked girl replied, Jakobb didn't hear it. His brother swept a gaze over the street and caught sight of him. "Go home, Jak! I don't know what's to happen, but no matter what, this is no place for kids!"
But Jakobb wasn't a kid; he was the leader of the Worthy Creed. And, he was about to lose his brother to the Collegium, whatever that was. He didn't want to be left out of anything Drayco did, not anymore.
So, he dashed off to the side and hid, creeping behind waste buckets and bushes to avoid notice. And, by doing that, he was there to see and hear what happened.
Drayco landed in front of the others before the blinding portal, and they all watched in wonderment as a figure materialized within. It walked down and out as if making its way down a set of stairs. It was stranger than anything Jakobb had ever seen, and as the brother of a wizard, he'd seen some weird stuff. The man's face was white as the pillars holding up the local museum's roof, shot through with three bars of blue-grey color, one under each eye, and third through the nose. His eyes were as silver as the translucent dragonfly wings fluttering on his back, and he wore clothing that reminded him of that play Drayco had taken him to see once. The royals had worn a similar coronet and robes of gold and silver like this man did. A scepter of steel with a massive diamond was gripped in a pale hand, clicking against the ground with every step.
"Grand Sojourn, I presume?" His voice was resonant, and the air seemed to vibrate with his every word.
"You know that well, as you called us," Ky'maret responded with cold formality. "We came as directed. Now, please, impart upon us the news you bear. I know you'd not leave Empyreach without dire reasoning."
"Who's to say I did not ask you to return, daughter?"
Ignoring the confused murmurs from her friends, all but Eltrys, Jakobb noticed, Ky'maret stepped forward, hands tightening on the hilts of her swords. "Because you exiled me when I chose El over the throne!" Drayco clenched a hand at that and growled under his breath. "Not that I'd ever wish to return." Eltrys crossed to Ky'maret's side and placed a supporting hand on her elbow
"I don't understand what you see in this mortal realm, but I suppose it works to my advantage since this is where the war will strike first," the Otherworld king said. "I have called your group to give you forewarning. Your group will be necessary to fight in the coming conflict. Two years ago, you stopped the Dauntiphren, Caelet, from taking the Horn of Bearing and bringing a Daemonic demigod to this world, but now, I fear that something worse threatens us."
"Worse than a daemonic demigod?" Drayco snorted. "This I have to hear."
"I don't think he's joking, Dray," Arianne said.
Jakobb's head was spinning. War wasn't a good thing, not at all, but what was all this about Daemons and demigods? It sounded like something straight out of a storybook. He pinched himself, and the pain came through. He wasn't dreaming; this was actually happening right in front of him.
"I am not one to jest lightly, something that my daughter shares."
"Begrudgingly," Ky'maret growled. "Just get on with it! If we are going to war, we need as much time as possible to prepare."
"Very well." the regal being sighed. "The most straightforward way I can put it is this: The Guzzler's Gaol has been breached, and the creatures within have been unleashed."
Jakobb joined the others in their gasp. Even he knew what that was, but he'd known it only as a myth. The Guzzler's Gaol was said to be an ancient prison that contained creatures of pure destruction. A truly evil place.
"You don't mean?"
"He does," Drayco affirmed. "I cast a spell that would allow me to sense the truth. The Null'ascri have been awakened. If they are not stopped, they will ravage the world. I've had dreams lately of all the world's continents set ablaze, and I fear that they might be prophetic."
"My seers have seen much the same thing," the king concurred. "I have gathered you and many other heroes and forwarned them of the coming danger. But, no matter how prepared we are, know this. Whenever the Null'ascri are set loose, the landscape of the world is changed forever."
Drayco nodded. "Well, then. So much for attending Collegium in the fall. I think we've found a higher calling. What do you say, Grand Sojourn, shall we join the fray?"
As the others joined their voices to his in affirmation, a maelstrom of emotions whirled in Jakobb's mind. Brother wouldn't be going off to college, which was exciting. But that also meant that something big and bad enough was coming to take Drayco away from the thing he was most excited about.
Jakobb had a bad feeling about all of this. He knew that after this strange meeting in Laud Avenue's culdesac, his family's life, and that of all families the world over would never be the same.