The time has finally come for the first foray into the world of Burning Sky. Welcome to Gaea – a world in which conflict between the human Creeds and a race of supernatural beings called Djinn has escalated to all-out war. This is your introduction to The Uprising – the 20-year war.
Clack! The clash of wooden swords striking against one another ripples through the air in quiet Selighausen – a town of blacksmiths and carpenters. Then again, this one followed by a thunk as one sword goes soaring, only to land in the dirt behind its wielder – a tall boy around twelve years of age with grey eyes and unkempt, blonde hair. He turns to the training weapon in awe, wincing at a booming voice that calls out to him from behind, so heavy that it seems to shake the town, itself.
“Baldrik,” the voice says, prompting the boy to turn around. Slowly. Across from him is a goliath of a man with his own wooden sword held over his shoulder and a two-handed battle-ax strapped to his back. He sports a simple tunic that only accents exactly how tremendously built he is, as if he’s near to bursting out of it. And drawn onto his forearm is an archaic tattoo, entirely comprised of blue ink. “I told you to keep a firm grip on your blade, did I not?”
Young Baldrik grimaces, then takes to rubbing the back of his head with a nervous but spirited laugh. “You… did say that, didn’t you? I suppose I made myself look the fool again, eh? But still…” In an instant the boy is in his mentor’s face, eyes wide and glimmering. “That move was incredible! When are you going to show me?!”
“Come on, Herr Arick! If I’m to be an Elite Knight like you when I join the Templars, I’ll need all the best moves! Ah.” Then the energetic boy steps back, patting his fist in the palm of his hand. “And I suppose I’ll also need a strong Grace. I’ll bet with yours, you could knock down a whole mountain. I’ll need one like that.” He nods to himself as Arick stands before him, looking rather amused.
Arick extends his arm, tapping Baldrik atop the head with his sword. “Partial credit. The best knights have far more than just strength and power.”
“Of course!” Baldrik grins, pumping his fists. “You’re also smart as whips, the lot of you. You’ve got all the best strategies to thrash the Djinn, but good.” But the boy soon finds himself lightly plucked on the nose. “Ack! Why?!”
Arick stands over him, looking down the bridge of his nose. “Judgment.” He then picks up the boy’s wooden sword and hands it to him. “Do you understand what we Templars mean when we say we’re the ‘Sword of the Goddess,’ Baldrik?”
Baldrik ponders whilst rubbing his nose. “Um… that you fight evil people?”
“It means that Nemesis has tasked us with being the living implements of her eternal justice. That task requires exceptional judgment. Our every decision carries tremendous weight. Remember that.”
Baldrik peers up to his mentor, his eyes locking on the somewhat fresh bandages around the knight’s torso as his head dips. “Even saving a Djinn from the Akuma, Herr Arick?”
Arick glances down at the wound, his mind going back to the event, not even three days prior. A rogue Akuma – an iron and hellfire devil from beneath the earth – had attacked. And Arick felt compelled to jump to the rescue of a Djinn man, horns and all, in chains. A slave who just happened to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time. This pause lingers as Arick brings his hand over the injury. “Yes, Baldrik. Even then. We Templars ever walk on the razor’s edge. It’s paramount that we remember the Templar Order, indeed the entire Creed of Nemesis, is meant to stand as a bastion of fairness. And I can think of no existence more unfair than that of the Djinn.”
“But… aren’t we at war with them?”
“Aye. That we are. Wars like this… they can make great heroes and greater tyrants. Conflict is the greatest test of judgment. So easily it clouds that of even the most resolute. But as Templars, we mustn’t let it.” Then the knight turns to his pupil, reaching out and placing his hand atop the boy’s head. “We must stay clear, Baldrik. Always.”
In the midst of this moment between master and student, two people step out into the yard from the forge of the nearby house. A tall, burly man and a woman, cradling an infant girl in her arms. The man waves the pair down. “You two are still at it, I see,” he says. “I hope our boy hasn’t given you too much of trouble, now.”
“Pa!” Baldrik objects.
Arick laughs, patting the boy’s head down, much to his chagrin. “Ah, not to worry, Ernst. Baldrik is a good student. Headstrong. But good.” He turns his attention to Baldrik’s mother and baby sister. “And how’s little Abigail?”
“She’s well. Scarcely cries anymore. Loves her brother fiercely, she does,” Baldrik’s mother says.
“It’ll take me a while, yet, to finish fixing up your armor as you asked, my friend,” Ernst cuts in. “Though at your level, I don’t see much use for it. You’re sturdy as any iron suit.” His eyes travel to the bandages around Arick’s abdomen. “And those damnable Akuma can melt right through it with those molten points of theirs.”
Arick grasps the small chain around his neck, from which hangs a silver ring with the Templar crest upon it and his name etched inside. “It’s… sentimental,” he says.
Just then, all eyes in the yard are drawn by a loud voice. A tall, lanky thing from town crashes his way into the yard, tripping over everything in the forge. “Sir Brahm!” he shouts, fumbling across the yard to the group and bending over to catch his breath upon reaching them, bracing himself against his knees. “Sir, there’s an emergency!”
The knight holds a hand to the young man’s shoulder. “What is it, son? What’s wrong?”
The frantic young man, maybe 16-years-old, pants and gasps for breath, covered in sweat before taking a deep breath, only to push it all out at once. “It’s the Imps, sir. The… the Djinn. They’re here. They’re attacking us!”
Arick’s eyes narrow. “Ernst…” Then he turns to Baldrik’s father. “My armor.”
“Arick, I’ve already told you it isn’t ready.”
But the knight simply looks to his protege, catching onto the worry in the boy’s eyes. He then turns to the boy’s father again. “My armor, Ernst. Please.” After a silence, Ernst rushes off towards the forge.
Baldrik’s mother sniffs the air as a pungent odor begins to fill it. “Fire,” she breathes. Then comes a thunderous boom from off in the distance. Little Abigail begins to cry and her mother does her best to rock her, shushing to calm her down, Baldrik stepping over to help, trying to get her attention.
But a pressure grips Baldrik’s shoulder. He turns to find his master standing over him with a grim expression. “Take your family indoors and hide. Don’t come out until I come back to get you all.”
“Herr Arick, I can-!”
“Baldrik. Judgment,” Arick barks.
His pupil bows his head. “Aye, sir.”
Then Arick steps back, taking a real, iron sword from the hilt on his belt before extending it, widening the boy’s eyes. “Protect your family, Baldrik. Keep a firm grip. Do you understand?”
Baldrik nods. “Sir!” he declares. But his concern returns to his face.
Arick chuckles. “What are you worried for?” He reaches over his shoulder, grabbing hold of the massive ax on his back and bringing it out in front of him, holding it in both hands. “I have an unbeatable Jaeger family original by my side, after all.” Ernst then returns with a crate, filled with the various pieces of Arick’s Templar armor. The knight reaches in and pulls out the breastplate, gazing upon the Templar sword and shield insignia emblazoned across it.
What seems like an eternity later, Arick stands in the middle of the small town, the flames all around him mostly extinguished, reduced to pillars of smoke, reaching into the sky. All around him lay bodies, as beaten and bloodied as his own. A mix of Templar guards and horned adversaries, as well as unlucky civilians. His armor is scorched in places and his face is smeared with sweat and soot. He directs a handful of civilians, pointing for them to follow a younger guard to safety. But as he raises his arm, he grunts, glancing down at his wound.
Falling debris, nearby, makes Arick jump to his guard. But it seems to be nothing more than the result of a burning building, made structurally unsound. “You look tired, knight,” a voice says from behind him. When he turns around, the swing of his battle-ax finds no purchase whatsoever. Indeed, having ducked the blow is a spry young man in lighter armor – a man with deep, yellow eyes, pointed ears, and horns protruding from his forehead. In his hand is a large spear style weapon. “You’re really determined to protect this pit, eh?”
Arick raises his guard. “This ‘pit’ is a town of innocents that you attacked.”
The Djinn blinks at this assertion and stands upright, letting his own guard down. “Hm. So that’s what you tell yourself…” He sighs and points his spear at Arick with a twisted grin. “Well. I can’t say I care all that much about it. The place is one of the Templars’ biggest suppliers, so it’s gotta go. And you’re a Templar, so… you know. Nothing personal.” His spear comes alight with a burning red flame that spirals around its head. He lunges repeatedly at Arick, gradually picking up to an inhuman speed, such that it looks as though he’s throwing dozens of attacks at once.
Arick does his best to follow each spear thrust. Through sheer instinct, he senses its coming for him and his body reacts, avoiding or blocking it. But eventually, just as he’s about to clear it, he agitates his abdominal injury. And he pays for that brief stutter in movement as the flaming spear pierces straight through his shoulder, forcing him to stagger. “Talk about arrogant. Maybe you shouldn’t have tried to fight with that, eh knight?”
But Arick plants his feet, digs his heel into the pavement and grabs the weapon, throwing it out of his arm. “Overconfidence is assuming scrapes like that will be enough to stop me.”
“Oho. I see,” the Djinn says. Then he moves forward, his stance still open and bizarrely loose as he bobs and weaves around Arick’s attacks. He moves like some manner of animal. A beast. Meanwhile, he sneaks in a jab of his spear at every given opportunity, though the knight repeatedly evades it, rolling the tip off of his armor. “You’re good, huh? Even hurt, like that. I’m not dumb enough to let you hit me, though. You’ve got one of those Grace things, right? That’s pretty bad news. Bet that’s why cutting you’s so hard.”
Arick scoffs. “That and Adamantine. Hardest metal in all of Gaea,” he says before whipping the ax around. In doing so, a blue light emanates through his forearm plate where his tattoo is, beneath it, and likewise overtakes his brown eyes. On the follow-through of his next swing, the ax is surrounded by a blue light. And though the swing misses its supposed target, it does hit something.
“Just Impact. My Grace. Controlling any collision I can anticipate. Including with the air, itself.” The result is a whirlwind that sucks the Djinn toward him. The blade of the ax winds up stuck in the ground, but the knight releases it with one hand and balls an armored fist, bringing it straight up into his opponent’s core, such that he coughs up blood as he flies several feet in an arc, landing on his back.
Arick takes a step forward, then is forced to stop himself as he just narrowly catches the spear as it’s extended towards him, the spiraling flames adding to its length. The point just pierces the front of his breastplate, slashing through the Templar insignia. With him distracted, the Djinn gets back to his feet, coughing as the air floods back into his lungs. “It looks better that way, really,” he says, collecting himself. “You Templars are so proud of that eyesore…”
The knight glowers, looking around at all the bodies lying there in the streets. The people who never wanted any part of this. Some faces he’d known. His fist clenches. “The Templars stand for honor and justice. Protectors of the innocent and slayers of evil. That is what our symbol represents.”
The Djinn stares at Arick. “Sure, sure.” Then he assumes the same loose battle stance as a moment ago, matched with his rather wild expression and demeanor. “But do you know what it means to us?” No answer. Not verbally, at least. Arick’s only response is to tear his ax from the earth and raise his guard. “Guess so. Anyway, I think I have a few broken ribs, now, so I’m going to cut this short, if that’s all right with you.”
Arick flings himself forward, only to be met with a barrage of extending lance strikes from the Djinn. “Show me if you can ‘anticipate’ all of these.” As Arick presses on, he dodges and parries as best he can, getting grazed and such. But he takes a few directly when his injuries catch up to him. One even catches him directly in his original wound, halting his forward progression entirely and ensuring that he takes several more blows, guarding his vitals with his ax. The Djinn advances. “Such an annoying thing. With my Blaze I should be able to cut anything. But here you are with that hunk of metal.”
The knight hunkers down as his fray bears down on him, each extending spear thrust hitting his ax like a cannonball. But he grits his teeth and stands his ground. “Aye. It’s a reliable old friend. Made by a reliable old friend. And as long as I wield it…” With a shift of his grip, he spins the massive weapon. Over and over until it’s like a propeller before him, much to the shock of the Djinn. Every spear thrust strikes the face of the ax as it spins in front of its wielder. Then comes a crunching, snapping sound. The spear crumbles against it, the tip finally deforming and the pole snapping in two. “I am unbeatable.”
The Djinn lurches back, gritting his teeth. “You… really are infuriating.”
Moments later, the Djinn goes soaring through the air, crashing into an abandoned carriage in the street. “Surrender,” Arick says, catching up to him near the wreckage.
“Tch. As if I’d take orders from you.” The Djinn sneers, pulling himself out of the cart, his yellow eyes taking on an ethereal orange glow like fire. The cuts and bruises all over his body glow, just the same. Like his blood is turning to magma. The same fiery glow forms under his skin and in his throat, flames spewing from the corners of his mouth, through gritted teeth, and from his eyes. All around them, the heat in the area turns molten, the ground growing charred beneath his very feet.
Arick raises his ax. “What are you-?”
“I told you, already. This town’s got to go.”
His face now written with horror, Arick swings his ax, kicking up another vortex that sucks the Djinn towards him. “I won’t allow it!” he declares, a fist wound back. Then comes a boom like thunder, followed by complete silence.
The two warriors stand opposite one another. The heat in the area dies down, the fire in the Djinn’s eyes extinguishes, and his blood loses its burning glow, trickling from the corners of his mouth. The result of the knight’s mighty blow? An armored fist plunged directly through his core, stained with steaming blood. Then his mouth weakly curls into a grin. “Heh.” Arick looks down to find the Djinn’s claws dug into his abdomen, extended through his back like his spear had been throughout their bout. “Didn’t… anticipate that one.”
As the Djinn’s claws retract, Arick drops him and stumbles back. “A… trick? Why?”
The Djinn snickers as he lies there in a growing puddle of his own blood. Just then, a carriage rolls by the intersecting street, racing its way through the gates out of town. Arick can just make out its occupants. A handful of other Djinn. Men, women, children, all embracing one another with the cuffs of broken chains around their wrists, save for one young girl with grey hair and red eyes who catches sight of the end of their battle, peering out at the man on the ground across from Arick, gawking in shock.
Arick doesn’t move a centimeter, watching as the carriage disappears into the woods near the town. At his feet, the Djinn sees them off as well. “I’ve… noticed something about you humans. In your darkest hour, you all look to the sky. As if some divine force is watching to see you through. Where do you think… we ‘imps’ have to look to?”
The knight grips his wound and stands over the warrior on the ground. Before long, the light leaves the Djinn’s eyes and any residual heat fades. Then Arick bends down and closes his adversary’s eyes. “Justice… be done.” Then he walks off.
In time, he shambles his way back to the edge of town, where the Jaeger family’s cottage and forge stand, dragging his ax behind him. A knock later, the door opens. Out rushes a jubilant young Baldrik. “Herr Arick! You beat them, then, right?!” But just as he finishes speaking, his mentor collapses forward against him, forcing the boy to hold him up. “H-herr Arick?” Looking closer, Baldrik observes how riddled the man’s armor is with holes, how bloodied he is, and how gaunt his face has become. “Oh gods. Papa! Mama!” He shouts.
Arick forces himself to one knee, planting a hand on the boy’s head and leaning his ax towards him with the other, even despite the tears welling up in his eyes. He grunts at the movement, then takes a breath. “Baldrik,” he says, seeing to it that his pupil takes the ax in both hands. “Keep a firm grip.”
Now struggling to keep himself together, Baldrik finds himself sniffling. But then he shakes his head frantically. “Herr Arick, you’re not. You’re back! That means you won, right?! So you can’t!”
But Arick wills himself to smile as Baldrik’s parents make their way to the door. “Baldrik, what’s-? Gods,” Ernst says, his wife gasping and turning away from the door, rocking little Abigail. “Arick.”
The knight releases the ax and Baldrik nearly falls over under its weight, bracing it against himself. “You will be a great knight, one day. Stay clear, Baldrik… always,” he says, touching his fist to his pupil’s shoulder. Slowly, hesitantly, Baldrik nods and Arick turns to sit on the porch, leaning himself against the cottage’s outer wall that he can finally rest, young Baldrik left there, tightly gripping the ax and bowing his head with tears rolling down his face.