THE SAGAS OF KRISTALA
The frigid air cut through the countless layers I donned and settled deep into my bones. This wind-whipped wasteland was no place for a desert-loving Sykomana.
In truth, the frozen valley I now found myself in didn’t really seem fit for any Anagativa, and yet the ice-wielding Tandarans had somehow found a way to thrive here. The thought comforted me as I trudged on through the knee-deep snow.
Suddenly, my thoughts were interrupted by a figure that appeared through the thick curtain of snow steadily falling from the sky.
"Never wise to travel in a storm, my friend." The warning startled me. I looked up through my fur-lined hood to see a smiling Tandaran merchant wheeling a cart of goods through the snow. He seemed unaffected by the cold and looked almost cozy wearing far fewer layers than me.
"Yes, but I must push onward,” I responded. “I can’t rest until the Proving is complete and I've joined ranks with the Raksaka. I journey now to seek council with the Tandaran Crystal, and time is of the essence. I won't waste more time than necessary in this cursed, frozen place."
The cold had clearly soured my mood—and I briefly worried that my poorly shrouded disdain for this jovial merchant’s beloved wintry home may have accidentally offended him—but thankfully, he didn’t seem phased.
“Ah, so you’re the Chosen Sykomanan,” he replied. “You’ll need all the strength and energy you can muster to carry on. Here,” he said as he brandished a few items from his cart, “take this leather anorak and hot canteen of the missus’s famous flounder soup to keep you warm and boost your energy.”
This small act of kindness from a stranger seemed to awaken a bit of fire within me, so I graciously thanked him and accepted his gifts before wishing him well and continuing on my way.
After a few hundred feet a hulking, ice-capped mountain emerged through the white-out snow like a dark beacon of frosted misery. Looking up at its sheer size, I suddenly felt an intense yearning for home—for the scorching winds and blistering, black sands of the arid Sykomana clanlands. I longed for the smell of desert sunflower and the heat of sun-drenched afternoon.
Large flakes of snow began to fall even quicker around me, and the sobering sound of ice cracking beneath my feet interrupted my reverie. I couldn’t let a yearning for home distract me from my purpose; becoming a Raksaka warrior and mastering the Kristals six was everything to me.
I must prove to the Sykomana clan elders that they’d made the right choice in selecting me for this year’s test. I would make them proud.
I pressed onward as time became nonexistent.
Slowly I trekked the steep slopes of the slick, snowy mountain ahead of me. The harsh wind bit and clawed at the parts of my thin flesh that remained exposed; it seemed to crystallize in my lungs—burning from within—despite the frigid chill.
The only thing worse than this endless winter was the unwelcome pang of loneliness that continued to grow within me. I yearned for conversation, for company—longed to share stories and exchange laughter with kind faces. Many had said the Raksaka Proving was challenging, but none had ever spoke of this dull, lonely ache that settled deep inside the heart.
Then suddenly, I saw it: the flickering light of a fire’s red flame leaking out from within a nearby ice cave. A spark of hope bloomed within me then, chasing away the loneliness.
"Perhaps it’s a local Tandaran seeking shelter from the storm," I wondered aloud, my voice breaking and cracking through the icy wind.
Half-frozen and numb, I stumbled into the cave…and quickly came to an abrupt halt. The keeper of the fire wasn’t Tandaran as I had expected; hell, they weren't even Anagativan.
The strange creature crouched over the flames peered up at me with large, misty eyes that widened at my sudden presence. Its paws held a large, aged tome and its nose wriggled back and forth on a furry, round face as it cautiously took in my scent.
Though this wasn’t a creature I’d ever seen before, there was no mistaking its familiar whiskered snout and large, bowled ears.
"You are Kotakayan," I spat, my lip turning up in a sneer and my fingers playing at the hilt of my sword. "...But you aren't like any Kota I’ve seen before," I continued, taking in more of the creature’s slight frame.
He was much shorter and rounder than the savage soldiers I’d battled along my Proving thus far. His features were much less sharp and his fur was much more soft and full.
The creature let out a small squeak and moved to duck behind the book he was still grasping between his tiny, clawed paws.
"A-Aye,” he stuttered. “I am Kotakayan, but I don't wish to quarrel and I certainly don't wish you harm. You see, I seek nothing but knowledge and truth…and a bit of shelter for the night...much like you,” he said as he gestured to the fire. An invitation.
I warily released my sword as I took in the rest of the cave for the first time. Several other books and scrolls were stacked haphazardly around the perimeter of the fire. As tired and cold as I was, I couldn't hide that the warmth called to me.
And so I sat, removing my gloves and letting the flames thaw my frozen fingers. The strange Kota relaxed a bit, though I noticed his whiskers twitched nervously every time I flexed my claws to savor the fire’s hearty heat.
I didn't want him to worry. I needed a reprieve from the cold, so I decided to make conversation.
"What are you called and what is your purpose?" I asked. After a beat, the creature folded a flat bit of tanned hide in his book to mark his place and set it aside.
"I am called Quilliam,” he said. “I travel Ailur to learn, to write, to document...in hopes of expanding my knowledge and understanding so that I may one day teach others."
Quilliam shivered as he spoke; I wasn’t sure if it was from excitement or from the frigid cold, but I removed the leather anorak the Tandaran merchant had given me earlier and draped it across Quilliam’s small frame.
"Thank you for sharing your fire,” I responded. “I am Abasi of the Sykomana clan, and I journey here as part of the annual Raksaka Proving."
Quilliam’s eyes lit up with excitement as he flashed a toothy grin. "A Raksakkar!" he exclaimed. "In my presence! I have always hoped to speak with one of the chosen someday, but never would I have imagined the moment would actually exist!”
I chuckled at his enthusiasm as he continued on.
“And bless my stars, a Sykomanan too! Is it true you can move things using just your mind?"
I coyly grinned at Quilliam and glanced over at the pile of wood stacked neatly in a far corner of the cave. With only a small nod, I lifted a single log from a pile at the far side of the cave, floated it across the distance, and carefully settled it into the hungry, crackling flames.
QuIlliam squealed in delight and launched full-speed into more questions as the evening passed by. We spoke at great length of my people and my kind. I told Quilliam everything I'd experiened along my journey so far as he feverishly scribbled notes on a fresh scroll.
Quilliam shared his story too. I learned of his quest for understanding and listened intently as he spoke of his passion for reading and writing. He gushed about the things he loved, about his people and his adventures as we shared the homemade flounder soup I'd received from the merchant and a meal of dried meat, fruit, and nuts.
At first light the next morning, we set out together to continue my Proving. I saw no harm in allowing Quilliam to travel the rest of the clans with me; he’d never set foot on Anagativan clan lands before and looked forward to documenting his travels with an actual Anagativa as his guide.
In truth, I was gaining something too—a companion to help keep the loneliness at bay.
And so, we traveled on together in this way—Ana and Kota—as we made our way, clan-to-clan, across Ailur. We explored new places and greeted many new faces—with Quilliam documenting it all.
When it was time for me to face the Shard Guardians and commune with the Kristals, I left Quilliam somewhere safe only to return once I was victorious.
When I'd finally earned my place amongst the ranks of the Raksaka, I petitioned other Anagativa to award Quilliam for all he’d done to aid me in my quest.
Though many were wary due to their misguided views that all Kotakaya were enemies, the Sykomana elders eventually agreed to honor Quilliam for the kindness he’d shown to me and to others—and for his willingness to help when needed.
Quilliam was given a home within our clan and a space of his own to write his stories and grow his library. Over time, word spread across Ailur of this strange new union between Kotakaya and Anagativa—of the growing group of rodent-like knowledge seekers who wished to see everlasting peace between two species that were historically at odds.
Though many more eventually settled amongst the six Anagativa clans, my dear friend Quilliam would always be remembered and revered as the very first of the honorable Hemani.