Before the story starts, here are two words you should know:
- Psykin: a psychic person who can read minds and influence the world through thought.
- Tessencia: an “unobtainium” element found only in special natural places.
A Rare Alchemical Flower from Falas
“Master Leon Sirelu!” exclaimed the white-haired Ashanti man in the doorway before offering a strong handshake and an embrace. Dressed in traditional white-and-green Academy robes, Master Kane DolShir never seemed to change. His accent was as thick as it had ever been. “I am so glad you were able to return safe and sound! And with new and strange alchemical discoveries, I’m sure! How was your sabbatical, my friend?”
Leon grinned, looking back from his parlor into his personal quarters. A timid pair of red eyes watched the conversation from the comfort of a makeshift hammock deep within the room.
“It was… enlightening,” Leon said, keeping his voice low. “Pardon, Master Kane, but young Aeo is trying to sleep in the next room. Come, I’ve something to show you.”
“Oh dear, excuse my excitement,” said Kane with a nervous cough. “I’ll have to meet the boy tomorrow, yes. Of course, after you.”
Leon guided Kane beyond the parlor into his workshop. Along the far wall, several concoctions inside copper alembics bubbled quietly, surrounded by leather-bound alchemical texts and personal hand-written notes. Leon paused only to lift his hand to light the light fixture that hung just above the center of the room. With a flick of his wrist, the candle within the spherical fixture popped into life, illuminating the room. The small workshop was certainly nothing compared to the larger facilities in the basements of the Everspring Academy, but they served Leon’s purposes well enough, not in the least way giving him the ability to work in private.
“Here, Master Kane, if you would,” Leon said, taking a loose page of parchment from inside his personal journal and offering it to the Ashanti. “Anything strike you as odd with this formula?”
Wordless, Kane took the page and read Leon’s handwriting under the light — although a master scribe himself, Kane had never judged Leon on his penmanship in their long friendship. After a few moments, Kane stroked his chin.
“Small amounts of sulphur and mercury, high concentrations of tessencia… In a single ingredient?”
Leon pursed his lips.
“This flower was… rumored to have killed a woman in San’Drael about a year and a half ago. I tracked down the flower’s source and spent most of my time away trying to figure out how. I had to tincturize it in 170-proof ethanol to extract and dissolve the ingredients completely, although I believe I can get away with a lower proof with further study. I call it alyssum igneus. I’ll narrow it down soon to preserve the other samples. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a flower with higher concentrations of tessencia per ounce before, even from flowers that grow near the Everspring.”
“You haven’t tested this ingredient on yourself, have you?” asked Kane with a frown, handing back the journal page. “How much of this flower killed the woman?”
“I don’t know,” Leon said. “Evidently, not much. I’ve only ingested small doses, to test its effects. It gave me a terrible stomach ache, but not much more.”
“You may want to visit the Medical Ward for any imbalances, nom’fre,” said Kane, emphasizing the expression reserved for foolish little boys. “Dare I ask if you’ve discovered a beneficial purpose for this ingredient?”
“Yes,” Leon said. “Although I don’t think you would believe me if I told you my testing procedure. Suffice it to say, I believe the high concentrations of tessencia when combined with an effective booster such as beraceas or curcumin could provide a user with the ability to prevent the mental intrusion and the damaging effects of hostile psykin.”
With the word “psykin”, Kane’s countenance fell. Leon noticed immediately and held his hands to make Kane pause.
“Now, I don’t yet have demonstrable proof that alyssum igneus functions in this way, but given time and opportunity to study its effects, I think that-”
With a whisper, Kane stopped Leon in his tracks.
“This… flower you study. It is ‘firebrand’, isn’t it? Leon, please, tell me this isn’t about your father.”
Leon gritted his teeth for a moment and wiped his mouth with his hand.
“It is,” he whispered back.
Kane looked away.
“All this time you’ve been gone,” he said. “This is still your purpose. You would murder to see your father again?”
“Murder…?” Leon asked, spitting on the word. “Kane, everyone in my life has told me for years that my father is either dead or beyond my reach. I have proven both of these as untrue. I plan to kill no one. I only require the tools to protect myself while I rescue him. ‘Firebrand’ isn’t just a poison. It’s so much more than that.”
“And the boy?” Kane asked. “Is he a part of this? Is he psykin?”
“No, he isn’t. But he has… potential. Magickal potential. His flames burned down the entirety of Olvaren, Kane. If he has this much power as a child, think of what he’ll be able to do with age and discipline.”
“I had heard as much,” Kane said, his voice low. “And a slave on top of this. But had I known you were looking for an apprentice, I would have helped you choose one a bit less… volatile.”
“Volatility is what they’ll least expect,” Leon said. “Volatility might be the key to setting my father free.”
“You expect this boy to be able to do what you cannot?”
“I’m no warrior,” Leon said. “You know this. I am doing what I can. No one will help me. No one even told me the truth of things until it was too late. So I will train my help. The boy deserved a better future than scrubbing the floors of some no-name tavern in the middle of nowhere. I can give him a brighter future.”
“You will give him a life fraught with peril,” said Kane. “You know this as much as I. That is what our “gifts” give us in return.”
Kane placed his hands on Leon’s shoulders.
“You depart for two years, you work against the will of the High Masters by investigating a flower that could kill them, you adopt a young Edian slave boy, and you pledge to rebuild an entire village. Quite an agenda, and all on your father’s inheritance. Have you even spoken to your mother yet?”
Leon shrugged Kane’s hands off and lifted a finger to Kane’s face.
“Don’t bring my mother into this. I didn’t come looking for a lecture,” he said. “As I said, I cannot do this alone. I need your help.”
“Yes, you do,” Kane said with a sigh. “You have told no one else about the potential effects of this… alyssum?”
“Good. Continue to say nothing. The High Masters would no doubt put an end to your experimentation…and even dismiss you from the Academy. But… If you have indeed found the solution to finding your father, then I suppose I have no choice but to assist you.”
“Thank you, Kane,” Leon said, placing a hand on the Ashanti’s shoulder. “I’ll have Aeo make a copy of my notes to send to your office. The sooner we can safely test the effects and side effects of alyssum, the sooner we can find him.”
“And how, pray tell, do you intend to test alyssum’s properties?”
“I suppose we’ll need to find a willing psykin,” Leon said. “One with considerable strength and the ability to keep a secret.”
“Of course,” Kane said, rubbing his temples with his fingertips. He chuckled. “It is times like these, Leon Sirelu, that tests the integrity of our friendship.”
“Solid as stone, I hope.”
“Something like that.”
Alyssum igneus (or Fiery Madwort) is a flowering plant native to the deep caverns of the Falas Mountains. It grows in clumps of small shrubs with stalks reaching 10–100 cm tall with oblong-oval leaves. Alyssum igneus flowers are characteristically small and grouped in terminal clusters; they are often red or pink, although at times they can also colored orange or purple. Alyssum igneus can be found growing where natural springs run deep and warm, making them rare anywhere near the surface.
When ingested, alyssum igneus flowers cause mild gastrointestinal discomfort and headache. Even when concentrated, these effects are minor to the normal person. To psykin, however, ingestion of even unconcentrated doses of alyssum igneus (i.e. the stem, flowers, or leaves) can cause damage up to and including temporary or permanent loss of mental acuity, brain atrophy, internal hemorrhaging, stroke, or death depending on the dosage and duration.
When brewed correctly and consumed by a non-psykin, however, an alyssum igneus tincture has the ability to block the user’s mind from mental intrusion and damage by nearly all beings with psychic abilities, including giant Falas wolves and humil, Ashanti, and Eshain psykin. The effect lasts for several hours depending on the dosage imbibed, although the negative side effects mentioned above can happen to a normal person if overdose occurs.
Only by combining alyssum igneus with other ingredients can these benefits be obtained. Beneficial concentrated tinctures also require much greater quantities of alyssum igneus flowers than their lethal counterparts, not to mention a mastery of the alchemical arts to produce the desired effects.
Interestingly, only the flower petals of the alyssum igneus plant share the beneficial qualities, whereas the whole plant can be processed to produce the negative. Regardless, no matter its form or combination, psykin should avoid alyssum igneus at all cost lest they lose their abilities (temporarily or permanently) or their lives.
History & Usage
Originally discovered by merchants traveling to Edia through the Falas Mountains roads, the rare red flowers were sold as mysterious alchemical reagents and even decorative gifts (although they couldn’t grow without very specific conditions). When an Antielli mage and psykin died from unknown causes (which was, in fact, a purposeful alyssum poisoning) in San’Drael in 216 A.R., the alchemist Leon Sirelu overheard details specifying the existence of the flower and decided to investigate its source. This led him to his exploration of Falas and his discovery of alyssum igneus.
Once only thought of as a rare but effective poison to psykin, Sirelu’s discovery of alyssum as a psychic deterrent threatened to shake the power structure of an entire nation. Before its classification by Sirelu, alyssum igneus was known by several titles, including “firebrand”, “brain-burner”, and “the dumbing flower”.
Trade & Market
Finding alyssum igneus on sale in the market stalls of San’Drael is highly unlikely. If it does, guards are unlikely to spot and confiscate the unassuming flower immediately. Even most Psykin apprentices wouldn’t recognize it by sight. If an experiences psykin recognizes it, however, expect swift confiscation of the offending flora and an intense interrogation as to the flower’s source.
More often than not, alyssum igneus can be found in black markets across the continent. Even then, it is tightly controlled, especially in Antielli territory. Since buyers often seek out the flower for dark political purposes, it behooves the vendor to sell alyssum only to those they trust. Typical transactions of alyssum igneus don’t involve much more than a few flower petals, a stem, or a couple leaves. As even milligram doses can kill a psykin man or woman, trading entire bunches (or even possessing entire bunches) is unheard of.
Law & Regulation
To the public, alyssum igneus is a simple but rare decorative flower. To those who know better (namely, those in the business of assassination) recognize the red flower as the perfect tool for eliminating otherwise powerful and ever-observant psykin. To psykin heads of state, guildmasters, and academy headmasters, alyssum was an unavoidable silent killer — unless you were unscrupulous and wealthy enough to hire a psykin taste tester for all your meals, beverages, and spirits. While the source of the flower has been known for some time, it was never discovered in large enough quantities to enable additional study. The Falas wolves, mephandras, and other predators ensured no one had the opportunity to carefully explore the mountain. Even after the disappearance of the Falas wolves and its discovery as a defense to psykin intrusion by Sirelu, the flower remained a rare resource because of information and quantity control.
How can a flower change the course of history? That’s what I want to find out as I write Alyssum and the Voices of the Shattered Sun series. Ha, series. More like a very rough outline and a few chapters that no longer follow my headcanon. Funny how developing a story beyond its inception tends to do that.
So there are a lot of words in this that I’ve made up. Note to self: pull back on the new vocabulary throttle when writing the story. Then again, it’s like I’m writing the Silmarillion and the Hobbit at the same time. A lot of this might not make sense yet considering it takes place after Aeo and Leon get off the mountain. But it won’t make sense until much later as Aeo learns about himself and his world along with the reader.