“There was a time,” it has been said, “when land was land and air was air... not so anymore.”
Save for the monotonous, soft whirring of machines as they processed data, and the gentle bubbling of the obligatory test tubes, the laboratory was quiet.
A wolf stood alone leaning over a white countertop, peering into a microscope.
Removing a pen from the breast pocket of his lab coat, he jotted a few notes in nearly illegible script and sighed. Fatigue pulled at his eyes, and he lifted a heavy paw to rub the sleep away.
“We’re so close I could taste it,” he thought aloud.
It was nearly 4:00 am and adrenaline driven by the aroma of a coming breakthrough could carry a tired body only so far. Even his most trusted lab assistant, Simon, had “called it a day” well over 8 hours ago.
Returning to his makeshift desk in the corner, he sat. A million ideas, figures and possibilities attempted to plunge their way through the sludge that was now a very exhausted mind.
Within what seemed like seconds, a deep voice interrupted his thoughts.
He recognized the voice, and the dream, immediately.
He’d had it at least a dozen times since discovering the journal three weeks ago. The details and setting often changed, but the voice was always present. Most of the time, Lucius stood mute and alone with the hooded stranger on a precipice with only the sea visible miles below. Another time, he was merely a bystander as the world rolled and tumbled; the baritone voice unchanged and unmoved. This time, however, the dream held him here, in his own lab and granted him some presence of mind.
“Working late again?”
“I enjoy the company at this time of day” the tired wolf replied as he stood. “I wondered how long it would be before you darkened the doors of my lab.”
“Shall I leave, Dr. Thorvald?” The formal title was used by many as a joke; a teasing gesture.
“’The Great King Magnus’, they called you. ’The One Who Will Unite Us All…’ they said.”
“Yes,” the beast replied solemnly. “They did.”
In a gesture of annoyance, Lucius turned his back, and began collecting the notes scattered on his desk into piles.
“It has been a long time.”
“A harsh time,” Lucius corrected him, abandoning the pointless exercise.
“A harsh time for many.”
“It has been a harsh time for many,” he rumbled, glancing around the lab and out the small windows to the world around him. Turning to face the intruder, he spat, “A harsh time for me, but it hasn’t been a harsh time for you. While I suffered through the droughts - the famines this war has brought; while I watched friends and my family struggle and die, where have you been, Magnus? Great and Mighty ‘King Magnus’ ‘The One Who Will Unite Us All’?”
“Well?!” he growled. “Where were you? It’s been 45 years since you vanished without a trace. After you disappeared, your ‘kingdom’ evaporated like mist before a noonday sun. For the past 45 years, dozens of would-be messiahs have paraded through the streets of Asgard calling themselves the ‘Children of Magnus’. Bah! I’ve spent most of my life living in the shadow of their tyranny. And now you return to us, ‘O Great Magnus’. Where have you been these last 5 war-filled years, Magnus?!? Where were you when this war started? What hope can you possibly provide to the Defiers now?”
“I have been searching.” He answered softly, calmly – like a parent patiently correcting a wayward child.
Lucius raised a curious eyebrow, “Searching?”
From his voluminous robes, Magnus produced a small blue stone.
“Searching,” Magnus smiled.
“For a blue rock?” Lucius snorted.
“This ‘rock’ is so much more than it seems. For starters, it’s nearly twice as heavy as lead.” Rotating his outstretched arm, Magnus let the smooth stone slide off of his paw and into Lucius’. Surprised by the weight, Lucius nearly dropped it.
“In its liquid state, it spreads quickly like oil on water. But once it binds to the silica found in most rocks, well… allow me to show you something.” Magnus began browsing the counter, shelves and cabinets.
“Imagine, Lucius,” he said as he selected a large beaker from one of the shelves, “what it might be like if there were no poverty, where everyone lived in peace. Imagine if an item’s value was determined by its practicality rather than its rarity. Imagine, my friend, a time of unity and tranquility for everyone.”
Locating a bottle labeled “Brine,” he poured the entire contents into the large beaker and placed it at Lucius’ feet before continuing. “It’s all within reach thanks to this small little rock.” Gently taking the stone from Lucius’ paw, he held it up at eye-level. “Observe,” he said knowingly as he released the stone to fall towards the beaker.
Initially, the blue stone plunged towards the floor, and the beaker, as a stone should. But then, the decent of the blue orb suddenly slowed until it was lazily drifting downwards, as if sinking through an invisible, thick mud, before finally coming to rest just above the surface of the water, where it hovered silently.
“Where did you—?“ Stooping down, Lucius retrieved the stone and dropped it directly into the beaker himself. He watched with wide eyes as it slowly drifted down once more and hovered a few inches above the salty liquid. He looked up at the smiling beast, his anger forgotten.
“It has been called ‘skystone’,” he breathed, leaning in closely, “and it will revolutionize lives.”
“Purely magnificent,” Lucius whispered to himself as he retrieved the heavy stone to examine it closer. “A marvel…”
“Times have been harsh, my friend, but a new age dawns.” The beast smiled widely. “Within your hands is Change.”
“But, where did you—“
“It’s unimportant.” Magnus waved his paw through the air dismissively. “Skystone is remarkable in many ways. There’s far more hidden beneath its lucid surface than what the eyes reveal.”
Lucius sat again at his desk marveling at the strange gift. “There’s more?”
The words, spoken aloud, woke him.
He was surprised to see the first few rays of sunrise struggling to peek through the dusty laboratory windows.
He was also surprised by something else: a small blue stone, resting just beside his paw.
He immediately radioed Simon: "Contact the others. We finally have the tool to use to end this horrendous war."
"Then what?" the young wolf asked.
The older wolf chuckled and leaned back in his chair, "Little did he know, the Great War was indeed coming to an end. Tell me boy: what do you know about unobtainium?"
"Unobtainium?" stumbling over the word, the pup's eyes grew wide. “Is that what created the skylands, grandpa?”
A green flash again brightened the night sky. Screams could be heard as Lucius scrambled in the darkness. He reached the edge of a cliff, it out of place and he out of breath. There, standing just at the edge, was a familiar figure clothed in heavy robes.
"Magnus!" he roared at the figure, "What have you done? You promised CHANGE!"
"I have done nothing," Magnus said quietly, looking down at the sea, "beyond giving you a tool to fix the lands. That is all."
"Fix the lands?" Another explosion followed a bright green flash. The drone of plane engines was punctuated by the pop-pop-pop as unobtainium bombs exploded in the distance. "You call this fixing the lands? They're crumbling, Magnus! Crumbling! And all because of your stupid stone!"
The figure said nothing.
"I would have kept it for myself, Magnus, had I known! Do you see that?" Fishing the small blue stone from his pocket and holding it up, he pointed behind him where the latest green flash had come from. "THAT is all because of this!"
Magnus, unfazed, didn't seem surprised. "The tools of change were in your hands," Magnus said wisely, "…and they still are."
The ground shifted violently and split open just inches in front of Lucius. Briefly blinded by the bright green light flashing wildly between the cracks, he stumbled back.
"Magnus!" he cried out, falling on his hind legs. As the ground lurched again, the skystone was knocked from his paws and landed a few feet away. Lucius scrambled for it, but the ground cracked open again with another loud groan. A flash of green light exploded in his eyes and Lucius scrambled away, cursing Magnus, cursing skystone, cursing it all.
The land beneath him heaved up and away from the surrounding ground. Lucius couldn't fathom it, but he held tightly to the rocks as they lifted upwards, more green light flashing wildly, illuminating the air around him in streaks of jade and celadon. Even through the green haze, Lucius could see other hunks of land doing the same thing: rising.
And he began to laugh. He laughed wildly, erratically, uncontrollably. All this over a small blue stone...
"Did he really laugh?"
"They say," the old wolf replied, "that during the Upheaval, your great-grandfather's wild laughter could be heard above the explosions of the unobtainium bombs. At the time, no one knew what was going on or why. Even years later, after most things had been sorted out, no one really knew where to place the blame. No one knew that it was skystone - that gift from Magnus himself - that had saved them.
It wasn't Lucius' fault that everything had been bombed to bits, but he blamed himself nonetheless. He swore he'd make amends for his wrongs and redeem his name."
"Did he?" the young pup asked, his tail wagging anxiously.
"Not yet. The people of Skytopia are stubborn. They teach their children horrible things about your great-grandfather," the wolf replied distantly. "But someday... maybe."
Lucius II looked down at Lucius IV, "I believe you are destined," he smiled, "for great things."