The Artifacts of Truth

The elves are an ancient race. Their history is mired in mystery and half-truths. They are intractable and embroiled in ancient traditions. Centuries ago, when the elves first encountered humans, a war between them became inevitable.

Since then, the elves and humans have forged a tenuous truce after a long and bloody war. Now the two races mostly try to avoid each and neither side wishes for renewed hostilities.

A freak rainstorm drives an elf and a human into a forbidden area deep in the forest that no one has entered since before the time of the war. The ancient technology they discover there will unravel everything they had ever known.

After the adventures that led them to discover the truth behind the elves’ origins, Ardyn and Jevan find themselves on the other side of their world, living among the humans that had banished Jevan’s people for eight centuries. There Jevan makes a discovery that could shake the very foundation of human society as they know it.

Before Jevan can even share this discovery, he is brutally attacked. A xenophobic shadow organization reveals itself and appears desperate to keep the truth Jevan found from being widely known. Ardyn and Jevan try to survive while their entire world crumbles around them.


Chapter 1

Ardyn crept silently through the brush, his eyes intent upon his prey. He had been stalking the beast for days now, waiting for the right moment to catch it unaware and get a clean shot.  He had patiently tracked downwind from the lone wolf while failing to notice which part of the forest he’d recently entered.

When Ardyn came upon the beast again, it had finished gorging itself on a fresh kill and had laid down to take a nap. The sun had faded behind clouds when he came across the still-sleeping beast, and he couldn’t believe his luck. However, Ardyn had been so intent on his prey that he failed to note how rapidly the cloud cover had increased, and that the winds had begun to pick up.

Ardyn crouched low within the brush, quietly pulling out his bow and an arrow. He had just nocked his arrow when the beast began to rouse itself, blinking its three luminous, silver eyes. It had taken note of the changing weather more so than the athla’naa who hunted him.

Suddenly, the clouds burst open, and the rain began to pelt down in heavy sheets, the trees doing little to prevent Ardyn from being completely soaked to the skin in a matter of moments. As soon as the storm broke, the beast fully awoke and ran, seeking shelter from the downpour.

Ardyn sighed in disappointment before he gave up the hunt to seek shelter himself. The rain and wind whipped tree branches into his face as he ran through the forest, forcing him to raise an arm as a shield. Thunder boomed overhead while lightning lit up the sky with brilliant flashes. Ardyn hated thunderstorms. He’d seen one too many trees nearly obliterated by lightning strikes, and he always worried about the people in his settlement and their homes nestled within the treetops.

Ardyn didn’t know how long he ran until he finally found the small cave along a cliff side, nearly hidden behind thick brush. He was lucky to find it at all, with the rain obscuring everything within a few feet of him. Stumbling inside breathless, he sank to the relatively dry floor of the cave.

Sitting at the mouth of his shelter, Ardyn watched the storm while he wrung water from his long braid. He realized that the storm wasn’t going to relent anytime soon so he decided to make camp for the night.

Unpacking his gear, he pulled out his bedroll, a portion of rations, and his waterskin. Being a ranger, Ardyn always had enough supplies on-hand to survive in the forest alone. The rations were dried blocks made from a mix of dehydrated meat and berries. They were favored among the rangers, who would often spend weeks, and sometimes months, away from any athla’naa settlement.

Ardyn next stripped off his wet leathers, laying them out on the dry floor of the cave, hoping they would be able to dry without a fire. It would be impossible to find dry wood in a deluge like this. As he settled himself in his bedroll, his mind drifted back to the morning nearly a week before, that had led him to track and hunt this beast in the first place.

***

Maala’naa, was still and quiet in the early hours of the dawn. Ardyn rose early on the days he was here, preferring to prepare for the day undisturbed. He exited the small treetop hut he called his own as he made his way across several bridges interconnecting the many treehouse dwellings in his settlement. Ardyn then let down one of the ladders that were pulled up overnight for safety. He climbed down, making the rest of his way towards the creek at ground level. There he took a bracing bath in the chill waters before anyone else in the settlement stirred.

Ardyn undid his long braid of auburn hair to wash it. He worked to separate the braided strands of his hair before submerging himself in the icy water of the creek. Once he was clean, he redressed, putting his long hair back into its usual braid, still wet. He was just walking back from the creek when he was approached by one of the Elders.

“Good morning, Elder Aelrindel,” Ardyn greeted. “You’re up early today.”

“I have a task for you, Ardyn,” Aelrindel said with a grave tone in her voice. “Another child was taken in the night by the beast. Our other rangers have attempted to hunt it down, but it has eluded them. I put the task upon your shoulders now.”

“Which child?” Ardyn asked with concern.

“Not one of yours,” Aelrindel assured him. “It was Cora’s youngest, Athandruel. It seems he left the safety of his hut in the night alone. He probably needed to relieve himself and didn’t want to disturb his mother.”

“He turned four winters not long ago,” Ardyn recalled shaking his head. “Such senseless tragedy. That’s the third child the wolf has taken now, isn’t it?”

Aelrindel nodded. “Yes, and we never know when the beast will attack next, so it’s best we eliminate this one swiftly. Lone wolves such as this are always dangerous.”

“Where was the child attacked? Did anyone see where the beast headed afterward?” Ardyn asked.

“On the northern edge of Maala’naa,” Aelrindel explained. “I believe they said the tracks headed north into the woods.”

“I will prepare myself and head after it,” Ardyn promised.

“Be safe and well,” Aelrindel said. “However, if the beast does continue to head north, do not forget where the border of the aria’una lies. You must try to catch the beast before it wanders there.”

Ardyn nodded. He knew. Every athla’naa knew to avoid stepping beyond the border of red-leafed bhath’laa’arh trees into the aria’una. The forbidden place.

He returned to his hut and packed his gear, along with his bow and quiver before heading out again. After he had descended back to the ground, he turned to see his eldest daughter, Myria, and her mother, Celaena.

“Going off again so soon?” Celaena asked. “You never do like to remain here for long, not even to spend time with your children, do you? How long will you be gone this time?”

“Aelrindel has tasked me with tracking and killing the wolf who has been attacking our children,” Ardyn explained. “The beast took Cora’s youngest last night. Please, tell the others. Keep the children in the treetops until I have brought back its pelt.”

Celaena’s eyes widened, and she nodded in acknowledgment. Myria waved as she was herded by her mother towards the ladder back up into the treetops.

“Bye-bye, Papa Ardyn!” she called as she began to climb.

Ardyn waved back even as he saw Celaena scowl at him. He sighed before he turned to make his way towards the site of the attack. Ardyn’s mating with Celaena hadn’t been a pleasant one, and she still resented him for his reluctance when she had been chosen to mate with him to produce his first child.

Ardyn had reluctantly mated with Celaena against his will, when he had come of age at twenty-five autumns. However, he chose to have little involvement in his daughter’s upbringing. Myria was now nine summers old, looking more like her mother every day. A part of him cared for the child, but the circumstances of her conception still deeply troubled him. Seeing the child or her mother always brought back memories of the mating ritual he had been forced into.

Sighing, he shook to clear his head as he made his way to the scene of the wolf attack, he studied the blood pattern and tracks that were still fresh on the ground. It was clear that the beast had been needlessly vicious with its kill. From how much blood there was, this was not a kill made out of necessity. The tracks were deep in the soft ground, indicating that the beast was large and not anywhere near starvation. This lone wolf was most likely rabid.

Ardyn stood, shouldered his gear, and walked steadfastly northward into the forest where the tracks led.

***

A flash of lightning startled Ardyn from his reverie. Another flash drew his attention to the far side of the cave as the light glinted off something. He may never have noticed it if he hadn’t been looking in that direction. Ever curious, Ardyn rose and made his way towards where he saw the twinkle of light.

In the dim light of the cave, he could barely make it out. There seemed to be something metallic, partially buried in the dirt. It was the edge that peeked out from the soil that had glinted from the flash of lightning. If it was metallic, that meant it had to be athla’maakh in origin, meaning this cave must be one that the athla’maakh hunters used. He must have strayed too far from athla’naa lands.

Ardyn’s curiosity got the better of him, and he reached out to see what the half-hidden object was. As he picked it up and brushed the dirt from its surface, he startled and dropped it.

It had … glowed.

On occasion, Ardyn had seen some of the metal tools the athla’maakh had when he traded with them, but he’d never seen any that glowed. Without touching the object again, he bent closer to study it. As soon as he’d dropped it, the glow had faded. Now it just glinted dully in the dim light. He reached out again as his heart pounded in his chest. As soon as he touched it, the glow came back, making him flinch away.

Part of his mind wanted to scream foul magic, but Ardyn knew better. Ever since he’d been young, he’d always been pragmatic. He understood that more advanced technology could appear like magic and he had seen firsthand some of the technology the athla’maakh possessed. While his own people shunned technology, he had never feared it.

Yet, he was baffled. What kind of technology could do this?

Ardyn steeled his nerves before he reached for the object again and picked it up. He didn’t flinch or drop it this time as it began to glow. It produced an eerie light, faintly blue against the silver of the metal. As he held it up for a closer inspection, he realized the glow came from symbols carved into the surface of the object.

Looking more closely at the symbols, Ardyn’s eyes flew open in surprise. The words were in an ancient athla’naa script, but he couldn’t make out the archaic words. While he couldn’t read it himself, he recognized it from the scrolls and books the Elders kept.

That didn’t make sense. Athla’naa didn’t forge metal, and they most certainly didn’t have technology like this. This object was more advanced than anything Ardyn had ever seen. The metal tools he had seen from the athla’maakh were never this smooth or polished, and they didn’t have the capability of emitting light.

Trying to understand what the object even was, he turned it over in his hands. It was small, just large enough for a hand to comfortably grasp. It was roughly octagonal, with four sides longer than the others. One edge extended out from the silvery metal the object was composed of and looked like a different metal. Copper, he thought he recalled from his limited knowledge of athla’maakh vocabulary.

The back was smooth with no marks; the glowing writing only appeared on one side of it. Ardyn carefully placed it within his pack before he went back to the side of the cave where he’d found it. He looked for more clues, but he found nothing more but dirt.

Exhaustion hit Ardyn, so he once again settled himself into his bedroll.  He may as well get some sleep while the storm continued to rage outside. He could worry about the meaning of the strange object tomorrow.

***

Ardyn awakened to the sound of chirping birds coming from outside of the cave. It was the next morning, and the storm had finally passed. He blinked the sleep from his eyes, sat up and reached into his pack to break his fast when his hand brushed over the object.

As the dawn light filtered into the cave, he drew the thing out of his pack and contemplated it once again. It didn’t make any sense. The words on the face of it were an archaic form of athla’naa script; he was sure of that. Only those destined to become Elders were ever taught how to read that form of script. The current script that his people used was a simplified form.

Why were these ancient athla’naa words glowing at him from this piece of ostensibly advanced technology? From everything he had been taught since he was a child, his people avoided technology beyond the most basic things. Metalworking was strictly forbidden. Possessing or trading for metal tools was enough to get you shunned from your settlement. Athla’naa favored wood, bone, or stone for everything from weapons to the needles they used to sew together their clothing.

Generation after generation, the athla’naa were taught to do things the same way they had always been. To uphold tradition at any cost. Innovations and inventions were the product of a weak or lazy mind that had no patience for the old ways. Not adhering to tradition was a slight against the ancestors that would not be tolerated.

When he was younger, Ardyn had always wondered why the Elders were so strict regarding these edicts. He’d found himself punished a few times for daring to speak out and question their wisdom. Ardyn’s curiosity on the matter never abated, but he had learned the hard way to keep his questions to himself.

He wondered how the Elders would react upon seeing this object. They would undoubtedly be able to read the writing on it, but knowing their aversion to any technology, he wondered if they would just take it, or even destroy it, without explanation. Not being able to reconcile the conflicting evidence he held in his hand, he once again shoved the thing back into his pack. Then he pulled on his still damp clothing before packing up the rest of his gear.

In the wake of the storm, Ardyn would have to pick up the wolf’s trail again. He knew he’d gone beyond his usual hunting range if he had ended up in a cave possibly used by athla’maakh. Running nearly blind in the storm the day before, he’d completely lost his bearings.

Ardyn decided the first thing he had to do was figure out where he was, and the best way to do that was to go up into the trees. He made his way towards a suitably tall tree. Leaving his pack and bow at the base, he began climbing, carefully picking his way through the branches. Once he was at the top, he looked around only to feel his heart jump into his throat. Oh no.

He hadn’t crossed into athla’maakh territory as he’d feared; this was much worse. He’d crossed into the aria’una. He could clearly see the arc of red-leafed bhath’laa’ar delineating the border. He had to get out of here, now.

The Elders must already know of his transgression, so he was in a near state of panic. Somehow, they always knew. His heart raced, and his breath caught in his throat as he climbed back down the tree. He grabbed his pack, running immediately in the direction of the border of the aria’una. It had looked like it was at least a half day’s journey from where he was, even if he ran at top speed the entire way.

How had he gotten so deep into the aria’una? He didn’t run through the rain that far the day before. Ardyn had been so intent on tracking the wolf, he must have failed to note that he had headed farther north than east. Somehow, he’d also missed seeing the border of bhath’laa’ar when he’d passed them. Ardyn was a seasoned ranger; he shouldn’t have let himself become so distracted by his prey that he had missed the perimeter. Now, as he fled through the trees, he felt like a complete fool.

Ardyn ran for nearly an hour when he finally stopped to rest and catch his breath. He knew he had to leave the aria’una as soon as possible or face even worse punishment. However, at his current pace, he’d pass out from exhaustion before he’d ever reach the border. Trying to calm his nerves, he took stock of the situation and decided to pace himself. It would be nightfall by the time he’d reach the border this way, but at least he’d get out today instead of lying passed out for who knows how long.

After several more hours of travel at a more moderate pace, Ardyn reached a natural spring. Deciding to take a quick rest before continuing, he refilled his water skin and drank deeply, taking a few bites from his rations as well.

Exhaustion had crept up on Ardyn, and it dulled his senses. He sat idly by the spring, lost in thought. He almost didn’t notice the sound of a twig snapping behind him. Whirling around, he saw the wolf that had once been his prey hurtling towards him, fangs bared. It was on top of him in an instant, knocking him backward and lunging for his throat.

Ardyn dodged the first lunge as he twisted to one side and tried to clamber from beneath the beast. As the wolf lunged forward again, Ardyn heard a yell and the distinct twang of a bow as it loosed an arrow. In the next moment, the wolf collapsed on him, dead. Pushing the massive  beast off him, he managed to scramble free from the beast, only to look up and see an athla’maakh.

Standing up slowly, he remained wary. The athla’maakh walked up to him brazenly and greeted him in the athla’naa tongue. “Yawen uthera ior. Kerros ma’naath Jevan.”

Ardyn was stunned for a moment, not expecting to hear his own language from the man. Taking a moment to compose himself, he then returned the greeting in the athla’maakh tongue.

“Greetings. My name is Ardyn.”

Jevan’s green eyes sparkled as he regarded the elf. “Nice to meet you, Ardyn.”

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