(The first part is here.)
The fire crackled madly, devouring the logs as a starving pig would devour last night’s table scraps. Damian sat motionless, watching as the fire spit glowing embers into the air as it began to die down. Getting up, he tossed another log onto the fire. He didn’t know if Sunrise would get his note, and he doubted they would reply, especially so quickly, but he hoped he was wrong. He stood up. Giving one last long look at the flames, Damian turned his back and began to walk out of the kitchen.
A quiet rustling sound caught his attention just as his foot crossed into the next room. He glanced over his shoulder and froze. Sitting in the cleared area on the cluttered table was a triangular piece of paper that hadn’t been there a second ago. Slowly he turned and walked back to the table. He picked it up; it was warm from the flames, but the paper appeared completely unsinged. He breathed in a shaky breath and began to unfold the note, holding the paper before him as if it were made of thin glass. He took another shaky breath and read.
We will come.
Without pausing to put the note down, Damian turned and left the house. He walked quickly through the remains of the once great town and toward the graveyard. There would be fresh piles of stones marking the most recently passed. It was Damian’s routine to visit the fresh graves every evening, but now he walked right by the stones, saying a silent prayer and promising a later visit as he passed them by.
In the rear of the cemetery sat a stone of a different sort. It was a thin ring carved out of a single slab of granite, the bottom planted into the ground, the top almost ten feet into the air. Runes were carved into the front, saying what Damian could only guess. It looked delicate, but the stone had been strengthened by Magic, both White and Black, and Damian knew there was very little that could harm it. The Portal Stone was Sunset’s access point, allowing travel both in and out. It was here that Damian waited patiently for his guests.
They came in a quiet instant, the only clues of their arrival being a mild breath of air and a low voom, as if someone just blew out a candle. Two Risers stood under the stone ring, their expressions were calm, but their eyes took in the new surroundings with something akin to panic. A third man sat in a wheelchair between the two. His eyes were closed and a smile split his face in two. Damian could not guess his age, but he was very old. What was left of his gray hair fluttered in the breeze. Even though his wrinkles were deep, Damian could easily see the similarities between the old man and the one who stood closest to his chair. The old man opened his eyes and gestured. His son stepped behind the chair and rolled his father forward, the third Riser falling in behind. Damian stepped forward to meet the men he hoped would save the only world he knew.
The Town Hall was the oldest building in Sunset, and the largest. Damian’s kitchen would have never held more than two comfortably, so he brought them to the large building on the other side of town. He lit one of the huge fireplaces and hung a pot of water above it for tea. The newcomers were quiet, only answering politely when asked a direct question. The man in the wheelchair communicated with nods or shakes of his head, or whispers between he and his son.
As he poured the tea, Damian began to tell the three of the recent troubles Sunset experienced: the lack of food, the lack of water, the lack of surviving babies.
The old man whispered to his son, who then turned to Damian. “My father asks when the troubles began.”
Damian stared into his tea as he recalled the day the first baby died. He spoke softly. “The day after the last Eagle, my father, passed. That was about fifty years ago. That was the day our Luck ran out.”
The son glanced at his father, but the old man kept thoughtful eyes on Damian. His son whispered into his ear, and the old man nodded. The old man cleared his throat as a large ball of light appeared before him. Damian gasped at the show of White Magic. He had never seen it used before, and the light was bright enough that his eyes stung before he looked away. The old man began to whisper into the glow, the Magic giving enough strength to his voice that Damian could hear him clearly as he began his tale.
“Fifty years ago, Sunrise experienced one of the most tumultuous times in its history. Crops in one field died, while the fields next to them produced yields that were so large we were required to build two extra granaries to hold them. Some of our food stores were decimated by rats, some by insects, and some turned to ash overnight. We had just enough food to survive. Our families also were affected. Some women gave birth to multiples, some had still births. Children became ill, women became barren, healthy men died after being sick in bed for only an hour. Our livestock suffered as well.
It was August, fifty years ago, when everything changed. The town shook under a horrible storm that hovered above us for weeks. Our homes were breaking under the relentless wrath unleashed upon us. We huddled inside, soaked and cold. My son’s wife was in labor, a labor so difficult we were sure the child would not survive, and we were doubting she would survive as well. My son would not leave her side, even as the roof above was torn away and the wind came into our home, bringing the storm with it. I held my wife against me as I waited for my death. The roar from the storm was deafening, the rain blinding, the wind tore at our clothes in its frenzy. We closed our eyes and cried our last goodbyes as we waited for an end that did not come. What did come was silence.
We opened our eyes to see the blue sky, the sun shining through our broken roof. My wife cried, and I cried beside her. My son was not as fortunate. As the storm fled, it took one last soul with it, leaving my son to raise a newborn alone. My daughter in law was the last human death Sunrise has seen.”
The Risers sat in silence. The old man watched Damian. His son looked into the flames, lost in his memories, not even wiping away the tear that slid slowly down his cheek. As Damian’s gaze moved to the third man, he realized that he was looking at the old man’s grandson. The youngest of the three stood against the stone fireplace, chewing absently on his lower lip.
“When your father died,” the old man continued, “he shifted the balance of Luck. Our worlds are connected, your’s and mine, and we have always worked together to ensure a balance. When the Eagles from Sunset severed our alliance, the scale began to tip. Your father’s death cast the last stone on the scale, tipping it completely in Sunrise’s favor. If we are to help you, we are to restore the balance back to not only Sunset, but also to Sunrise. We will ensure your future, while also ensuring our deaths.”
Damian was speechless. The old man’s grandson stepped forward in anger, pointing a finger right under Damian’s nose.
“What has this man done for us, Grandfather? What right does he have to take so many of our own away? He has done nothing! Sunset severed the alliance, let them reap what they have sown!”
Damian’s mouth worked, trying desperately to form words, but the old man spoke first.
“Grandson, it is us who have taken from them. We have taken all of the good, while leaving all of the bad for them. Yes, Sunset broke the ties between us, but they have already paid with their own lives, and their world’s very existence hangs in the balance. It is selfish of us to keep their share of the good, and they must in turn, give Sunrise back its share of the bad.”
“Enough!” The old man’s son glared at his only child, but his words felt heavy as he spoke them. “Your Grandfather is right. We must right this wrong, before the imbalance is permanent. My son, you have never known the pain of loss before, and I do not wish it upon you, but we must carry our share, and you must lead our people in this time of suffering.” He stood and turned to his host. “Master Damian, you must send your Eagles to the Common World; our Eagles will meet them there.
Damian gaped. “Our Eagles, sir?” He was answered with two blank stares. The grandson glared. “You see, Father? They haven’t even continued the most mundane of traditions. To receive help from the outside, one must first help themselves on the inside.”
“Wait for us outside.” The youngest cast one last glare at the old Setter before doing as his father commanded. When he was safely outside, the old man’s son turned back to Damian. “You must find three capable of this great burden we will set upon their shoulders. Three strong in the Magic.” He watched as Damian stared at him in silence. “You do have three who have the Talent, do you not?”
Damian nodded slowly. “Yes, there are three. There are only three. They are young, but they are all Sunset has.”
The man nodded. “Give them the totems and send them to the Common World, to Samuel Gatesman-“ he paused as Damian’s expression once again turned confused.
“Totems?” asked Damian.
“You don’t have the totems?” There was desperation in the man’s voice. Damian shook his head.
“Every Eagle is given a totem when they are raised. It is passed down from the first Eagles. Without one, an Eagle cannot travel, and he is grounded.” Beside him, his father reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, runed stone pyramid with a worn leather cord strung through it. He handed it to his son who in turn handed it to Damian for inspection. “The totems needed to get to the Common World are all the same, while totems used to travel to other Uncommon Worlds are all unique to the individual Eagle. You must find these totems, Master Damian, for without them, the Eagles of Sunset will not fly.”
Damian nodded and handed the old man’s totem back. He listened as the man instructed him on how to use the totem, stressing exact words to use when instructing the new Eagles. The old man watched the lesson through narrowed eyes. Behind them, the grandson appeared through the doorway.
“Grandfather, it is time to be going.” The old man nodded and allowed himself to be wheeled outside. They passed through the empty city in silence, the sounds of the old man’s wheels against the pebble pathways echoing off the wooden buildings nearby. Finally they stood beneath the portal stone. The old man nodded in reassurance as his grandson rolled him under the arch, the two of them disappearing in an instant. The old man’s son remained behind. “When you are ready, send a message. The Eagles of Sunrise and Sunset will fly together once again.” He grasped Damian’s hand in a firm handshake and disappeared under the arch.
Damian sighed. The weight upon his shoulders didn’t feel any lighter, but his limbs surged with the strength of purpose and hope. Walking quickly, Damian made his way back to his darkened house and returned to the graveyard, a shovel and pickax firmly in his grasp.