Alyssum – Chapter Eight

Alyssum Title

Aeo and Leon entered the residential cave first as the light began to fade over the mountain. Pick and Shera were nowhere to be found, and the pair hadn’t passed them watching over the flock of bighorns on the way over.

“Strange,” Leon had said. Aeo didn’t ask him why.

The snow had just begun to settle down; the autumn had only fallen a few weeks ago. Leon settled his bag down with a sigh, and Aeo felt a strong desire to dive straight for his fur blankets. Sometime during the day, the smokey violet wards near the door had been snuffed out, leaving the cavern bitterly cold and dry.

“Hold on, Aeo,” Leon said, holding up a finger and rummaging through his bag. He produced a thin metal rod and an odd piece of stone. “Have you ever started a campfire before? I have the flint.”

Aeo pulled a funny face from inside the fur blanket wrapped about him, and Leon saw it.

“…still nervous about fire, eh?”

“I, um…” Aeo rubbed his hands together. “I don’t… I don’t know if I… should.”

Leon removed his hood and gloves.

“That’s understandable,” he said. “You’ve only just begun to understand the kind of power you have inside you. It’s not like you’re used to lighting things on fire with your bare hands. Or even lighting your hands on fire.”

Aeo agreed with a nod, attempting to suppress any images of a burning inn in case Leon also had some mysterious form of telepathy.

“Fortunately for all of us,” Leon said, standing. “Magick isn’t the only way to get things done in this world. The natural world sorts itself all the time without it. In fact, it might do you some good to remember that magick isn’t always going to be the correct answer to your problems.”

Aeo frowned. How could unlimited power at his fingertips not be the answer to every problem?

“Honestly though, Aeo, you’ve never started a campfire yourself? A fireplace? A lantern? Any fire at all?”

Aeo nearly flinched at “lantern”. He played with his hands.

“They… I mean, I was told never to play with matches,” he said. “I wasn’t allowed.”

Leon stroked the rough stubble on his chin.

“I suppose that makes sense. One should never give matches to a young magickal arsonist, no matter how little mischief they plan to get into.”

A slight grin appeared on Leon’s face. Ar-son-ist? Aeo didn’t know the meaning of the word, nor did he didn’t ask for the definition. And mischief was the last thing on Aeo’s mind anymore. When Leon didn’t receive an anticipated reaction from the boy, he cleared his throat.

“Well, here,” he said, stepping towards the wood pile near the door. “Let’s treat this as your first lesson in the art of fire. No magick this time. All manual. First, you have to find appropriate pieces of wood and kindling to make the fire accept a spark and steadily grow in size. You’d wear down your flint and steel to stubs trying to light an entire cold, wet log. Here, take this one… and these two…”

Within ten minutes’ time, Aeo and Leon had together constructed a small lean-to with sticks and filled it with wispy wood flakes and twine. Then, admittedly nervous, Aeo took a piece of flint rock in one hand and Leon’s curved piece of steel in the other. Kneeling on the ground before the campfire, he could still see smolders of smoke rising from the ashes nearer the edges of the stone circle. It seemed very simple; strike the steel at a shallow angle and you’ll see sparks. Aim the sparks just right and you’ll get a fire.

Aeo breathed for a moment. This wasn’t magick. He wasn’t about to incinerate anything. This was just a simple trick and nothing more. He steadied his hands and struck the edge of the flint with the steel rod. Sparks flew, but to nowhere in particular. They fizzled out as quickly as they had appeared, surprising him that they’d even existed.

“Lean in a little,” Leon said. “Aim your stroke right into the center of the kindling. The sparks will follow.”

Aeo bit his lip and bent down further until his grip of the steel touched the lean-to. With a shaky hand, he drew the steel downward again, spitting sparks from the steel and stone. The direction was right, but the sparks didn’t connect with the soft mass of fibers. A second time. More sparks, right direction, no results. Third time, much the same.

Fourth time: the steel scraped the flint in a single quick strike, and several large sparks flew right into the bundle. Their orange glow connected and became pinpricks of vulnerable heat beneath a frozen world. Aeo very nearly continued striking the flint.

“No, that’s good, that’s enough,” Leon said with his hand on Aeo’s shoulder. “See the embers? Now lean down and blow on them, Aeo, and blow gently,” Leon said. “It won’t go out, I promise. In fact, fire wants for nothing but more air.”

Aeo blinked. Bending down as low as he could without hurting himself, he breathed in deep and exhaled. The golden coals flared to life with his breath, growing bright and crawling up the tinder like a small shining demon. No flame.

“Keep going,” Leon said.

Aeo gave another big blow. This time the coals within the flaxen bundle began to excrete a thick grey spout of smoke. Another exhale, and the smoke began to bend its trajectory towards Aeo’s face. Aeo inhaled a little too much, and turned away from the nascent plume, coughing.

“Ha, you may have power over fire, but smoke is a different matter entirely, isn’t it? Keep blowing.”

Aeo nodded and gagged at the same time. Turning back to the campfire, smoke consumed the bundle but showed no signs of flame. Thinking more clearly, Aeo turned his head away from the smoke to inhale, then turned back to exhale. With his blow, the smoke developed a voice, a youthful grumbling roar like wind rushing through a tiny hole. Another burst of air, and the roar continued.

Finally, with a pair of extra-large lungs full of air, Aeo blew. In a small noiseless burst, the smoke suddenly gave way to a warm and familiar glow. Tendrils of flame curled upwards, hungrily grasping for the twigs and small branches.

“There you go, Aeo,” Leon said. “Excellent work. How does it feel?”

Aeo sat up in front of the fire, crossing his legs and staring into it in awe.

“Warm, sir,” Aeo said, a bit mindless.

“I’m aware of that,” Leon said with a grin, adding a few pieces of wood to the campfire. “I mean how do you feel?”

Aeo looked down at the piece of flint and curved steel bar in his hands.

“I thought you could only make a fire with matches,” Aeo said. “How do these things make sparks?”

“Well,” Leon said. “How does a match work?”

“You rub it on the box… and it lights up,” Aeo said, mimicking the motion.

“Have you ever noticed what’s on the match? Or what part of the box you strike the match against?”

Aeo shook his head. He hadn’t had time to closely investigate them during his last encounter. He only knew what Ariste had shown him, which was minimal at best.

“The matchhead,” Leon said. “Is covered in special chemicals that ignite when a little bit of friction is applied. Do you know what friction is?”

Aeo shook his head again.

“When one object slides across another,” Leon continued, unabated. “Like a match against a matchbox, or a whetstone grinding against a knife’s edge, this is friction. When you strike the steel against the flint rock, you create friction.”

“So… friction makes fire?”

“When enough is applied, yes,” Leon said. “But with the right conditions and materials, it happens more easily. When your steel strikes the flint, tiny particles of iron are torn off and the friction makes these particles burst into flames, creating your bright sparks.”

Leon pointed to the steel and flint in Aeo’s hands.

“So,” he said. “While you may not always have matches at your disposal, so long as you have a bar of steel in your supply bag – or a steel blade – you’ll be able to make a fire almost anywhere. Flint is quite common, while matches are not. Understand?”

Aeo nodded. That made sense.

“But what about magick?” Aeo asked. “Can’t you make fire with magick?”

“Certainly,” Leon said. “But a scholar or a hunter wouldn’t last long out in the world relying on magick only. No matter what you might think, animis is finite. Do you know the word ‘finite’? It means ‘limited’, it has an end. Remember animis? My animis has limits. Yours does too. Think of animis as a pool of water. I can’t make wards over and over again endlessly, as each one empties my ‘pool of water’ until there’s no water left. But with the tools in my pack, I can confidently build a fire no matter the condition of my animis. If I’m knowledgeable about forests and the wilderness, I can forage for food and find clean water without resorting to magick. And if I’m talented with potioncraft and alchemy, I can heal the wounds of my friends and preserve life, even if I don’t know the right incantations. The world is full of tools, materials, and ingredients that can do wonderous things and help us preserve our magick for when we need it the most. Does that make sense?”

Aeo nodded.

“So the hunters were right… They said it’s possible to turn lead into gold, but that it’s really hard. Er… difficult.”

Leon chuckled.

“It is,” he admitted. “It’s called transmutation, turning one material into one of equal or lesser value. It requires a lot of lead and a lot of energy to make even a small amount of gold. I wouldn’t be surprised if some unprincipled adventurer tried to transmute a bit of lead into something that merely looked like gold. After all, not many have actually seen and hefted a bar of gold. It might have even been a petty illusion.”

“I wanted to be a hunter once,” Aeo said. “But all the hunters that show up anymore are really angry and drunks. They hate kids, and they’re really mean to… um…”

“Slaves?”

Aeo’s blood ran cold and he froze. He tried not to widen his eyes or looked frightened, but it showed through quite transparently.

“Aeo,” Leon said, placing his hand on the boy’s hesitant shoulder. “I don’t want you to be frightened of me or the past. I want to earn your trust. I think I have a good idea of what happened in Olvaren, but I want you to tell me the whole-”

In a violent burst of fierce chilling wind, the whole cave door flung wide open as if it had been torn from its rickety hinges by an angry giant. Coincidentally, it had, as there stood Shera in the open doorway, snarling ferociously. Aeo and Leon gasped as they saw her jaws and her neck covered in bright red blood. The young campfire froze along with them, extinguished in the burning mountain frost.

“Shera!” Leon cried, leaping to his feet. “What-”

<”THE BOY”> Shera cried, her eyes directed right at Aeo. <”THE BOY LED THEM HERE”>

Aeo reached for his ears, despite the lack of sound. Shera’s words were unmistakable and pierced the entirety of Aeo’s mind, popping his ears and filling his brain with an intense pressure strong enough to make his head burst. There was no reason in these words. Rage. Fury. Nothing like the graceful wolf she seemed to be just hours before.

The words carried images with them. Images of violence. Of a young wolf injured and caught by hunters. Of a mother defending her child. Of a deal struck… an ultimatum.

“Shera, where is Pick?” Leon asked. Shera ignored him.

<”THEY DEMAND THE BOY”>

Without another word, Shera forced her way into the cave, shoving Leon aside easily with her mass. To Aeo’s horror, her intent became perfectly clear. Without care or delicacy, Shera’s mouth opened wide and her blood-soaked teeth clamped firmly around Aeo’s torso and the blanket he wore.

“N-No!” Aeo shouted, now horizontal in her maw. He knew exactly what Shera’s words meant. “No, don’t take me back! You can’t take me back! S-Stop! Please!!”

“Shera, stop! Shera!” Leon said, holding his arms out and blocking her path through the door. “Shera, put him down! There is another way!”

The next words that Shera uttered couldn’t be repeated by humil or ashanti mouths, as technically there were no letters, icons, symbols, or even lip shapes to pronounce them. They simply were, existing just as much as a single terrible thought than as a lifetime of rich memories. The words were obscure but quite clear. Horrific and bloodthirsty but somehow playful and curious. No matter how a scholar might have described these words in a zoology textbook, there was one description that stood out to Leon and Aeo in that moment.

Silence.

The last thing Aeo remembered before he blacked out was Leon’s eyes rolling back into his head and his entire form collapsing like a ragdoll onto the cold stone floor.

*    *    *    *    *

The next thing Aeo remembered was a sudden abundance of gravity before crashing headfirst into an embankment of snow. The silence he had experienced from Shera disappeared before the joyous shouts of men and women. Why were they cheering? Were they celebrating something?

A shadow appeared above him, blocking the already dwindling sunlight.

“Found you,” came the insidious whisper.

Without another hint of warning (as if Aeo required one), a great pair of hands greedily latched onto his neck and squeezed, cutting off oxygen and blurring his vision. The hands lifted Aeo into the air with surprising and unfamiliar strength, and then threw him sideways. Unprepared for the whiplash, Aeo collapsed onto hard ice only to be pinned down by a heavy cleated boot.

<”YOU HAVE THE BOY”> came the thought-deafening telekinetic tone of Shera. <”RETURN MY SON”>

Aeo lifted his head as far as he could. Blood leaked freely from his nose, and though his frostbitten eyes were hazy, he could see several humil people standing around carrying burning torches and makeshift weapons. Unfortunately, he recognized some of them. They were from Olvaren. Some of them were more heavily armored and equipped: hunters.

Then, as if a whisper in a breeze, Aeo felt an image float to the top of his consciousness:

<The color purple. A humil boy hugging a wolf.>

“Pick…” Aeo groaned despite the pressure on his back, his eyes scanning around him. The thoughts echoed as if nearby, but offered no direction. Aeo dared to look backwards for just a split second, and he saw him: a ball of fluff curled on the cold earth, covered in blood… Pick wasn’t moving. The boot against Aeo’s back pounded downwards, knocking the breath out of his lungs and threatening to crack something.

“Shut up, you Edian piece of shit,” came a rough and ominous voice. “Another word out of you and I’ll break your arm.”

“Yes, you gave us the Edian!” cried someone in the crowd, a woman’s voice. “Now you’ll hold up your end of the bargain! Leave these mountains and never return unless you want your entrails ripped out and your bones carved up!”

<”RETURN MY SON”> Shera said. <”HOLD YOUR PROMISE”>

The words, filled with vicious rage, pumped through Aeo’s mind. His nose continued to bleed.

“Yes, of course, our… promise…” said the woman. Some of the other villagers and hunters began laughing. Aeo tried to look for Shera. He couldn’t see her. “Seeing as how you killed some of my men… We’d rather like to keep the little one for ourselves. A down payment for the reconstruction of Olvaren, you see. I imagine the wiz-caps in the Capital would pay top dollar to study this adorable little specimen…”

This time, there were no nameless words, no darkness. Whether Shera had exhausted herself mentally or had simply become enraged beyond humil understanding, her vicious growl made the snow and earth rumble. Then, an inhuman scream raged from the mountaintop.

“Steady, men,” said the woman. “She’s already exhausted. Keep your spears low and aim for her throat or eyes!”

<The color purple. A giant wolf licking a little wolf.>

“Pick, please…” Aeo whispered, hot tears flooding his eyes. This was his fault. All of it. He ran away from the Grey Pale and put them all in danger. Shera killed Leon. Shera was about to be killed herself. Hala would freeze on top of the mountain along with little Heem. And Pick… Pick was probably already dying.

Aeo couldn’t see it, but the battle began with a white blur and the crunching of bone. One by one, hunter after hunter attempted to lunge forward with spear and sword, and each was torn apart by massive jaws and merciless claws. Even those hunters that wore heavy metal armor were as tin cans to the monster, and limbs came off easily at the joints. The virgin snow soon became crimson as the Eastern tides; how many hunters died within those ten seconds, Aeo would never know. He only heard the shout that came moments into the one-sided fight:

“Back to the treeline! Damn it, Paulsen, forget the boy! Drag the wolf if you have to!”

The boot from Aeo’s backside lifted and vanished. Aeo stumbled to his feet and immediately ran to Pick’s side, despite the heavily-clad hunters that were currently attempting to drag Pick away on a sheet of leather. Pick was indeed covered in blood, a pair of arrows hanging limp in the thick, matted fur of his side.

“Pick!” Aeo cried, touching the wolf’s ear. “Pick, please, I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” he looked at the hunters. “Don’t take him away! Please don’t take him!”

Pick’s head rose, and a single eye looked up at the boy.

<The color green. A humil boy hugging a wolf.>

“Get off!” said the hunter. He turned and planted his boot right in Aeo’s face, launching him backwards. Right at that moment, Shera’s massive form collided with the two hunters from the invisible white. She then proceeded to mangle one of them as Aeo attempted to regain his footing.

“Pick, wait, I’m-”

Something struck him hard in the back of the head. A tree branch. A walking stick, perhaps. Its source became crystal clear.

“I’m not letting some wolf steal you away from me,” said Harthoon’s voice. “You haven’t even begun to suffer…”

Aeo struggled as best he could, but his head was spinning. Harthoon’s arms – objects that Aeo had never considered as having much strength – closed around his scrawny waist and carried him away towards the village. Away from Shera. Away from Pick.

“N-No!!” Aeo cried. “Pick! Pick!!”

Pick didn’t move. No thoughts came to Aeo’s mind. It was silent.

It was finished. Whatever fleeting hope-filled life the Goddess had thought to grant him was over.

Voices of the Shattered Sun – Enmap Bracers

Slowly, the nineteen timid students entered the open-air classroom one-by-one, and each took a seat on comfortable pillows in front of a large semi-circular stage. Afternoon daylight streamed through the green curtains hanging from open skylights, and a warm breeze drifted through the windows, smelling slightly of lavender. Aeo decided to sit as far back as he could, choosing the pillow in the corner farthest from the door. He’d heard of the concept of ‘school’ before, but he had no idea it could be held in a such a luxurious place. Ariste would probably have a heart attack had she known the price of the pillow upon which Aeo now sat.

Aeo could differentiate between the Antielli boys and girls with short rounded ears, thick brown hair, and hazel eyes, and the Ashanti boys and girls with long and pointed ears, wispy white hair, and pale blue eyes. But no other student had Aeo’s bright red eyes and hair. He couldn’t help but feel as though some of his peers had very much noticed the obvious newcomer, with whispers between cupped hands already floating around. A few eyes were thrown his way, and he felt himself turn as red as his irises. After all, the academy year had started several months ago, and despite his best efforts to catch up to his class, he was quite behind. It was bad enough that the apprentice robes Leon had forced him to wear were terribly hot, itchy, and decidedly uncomfortable. Now he had to endure a very rigid schedule where everything was new.

And terrifying.

Last to enter the chamber was a rather rotund fellow dressed in flowing tan-and-green Academy robes and adorned with a mighty white beard that fell to his chest. His aged grey eyes, rosy cheeks, big bushy eyebrows, and a crown of hair ringing a bald head made him look like a jolly grandfather. Fortunately, for the most part, his disposition reflected his image.

“Oy children!” he bellowed, stepping up to the stage. “Take a seat, take a seat, get comfortable! Today’s lesson is certainly one you’ve been waiting for. No more note-taking, no more hand-waving… that will come again later, of course. But today, it is time for the real thing!”

“Master Naal?” asked a young girl that sat up front. “Does that mean you’ll show us actual magick?”

“Better, my dear,” Master Edin’Rao Naal said, clapping his hands together. “Today you all will be performing magick.”

Eyes widened in joy and excited whispers increased. Aeo felt a pit form in his stomach.

“Now, now, everyone, remain calm,” Master Naal said, lowering hands to hush the children. It didn’t help very much. “I know that some of you are already very skilled at simple focus magicks and some of you still have yet to demonstrate them. Hopefully the tools I’m about to show you will put us all on a level playing field and help us all improve.”

Master Naal turned and moved to the table at back of the stage. He produced a pair of bright-red leather items from a wooden crate, and revealed them to the class. Curved to fit the arm, the items were beautiful pieces of sturdy leather adorned with metal rivets, decorative steel ornaments, and silver buckles.

“These, children,” he said, lifting an item in each hand. “Are enmap bracers. Now, what are enmap bracers? I’m very glad you asked. Would one of you like to come up and help me demonstrate what they can… oh, Jhote, yes, come right up, my boy.”

An Antielli boy from the front row rose without even raising his hand, and stood before Master Naal excited and a bit sheepish.

“If you would hold one of these on my arm, my boy,” Master Naal said, rolling up his sleeve. “Yes, that’s perfect.” Then, with a flick of his opposite wrist, the three leather straps tightened simultaneously and the whole bracer seem to latch to his arm. “Ha, you’ll get used to doing that, it’s quite a simple trick. Here, Jhote, hold out your arm, I’ll attach the other one like so.”

Jhote did so, and performing the same trick, Master Naal slid the other enmap bracer onto the boy’s forearm and buckled it. The Antielli boy looked at the bracer on his arm in wonder.

“Comfortable? Perfect. Now, as to their function. ‘Enmap’ is short for ‘energy manipulation’, as that is what these bracers allow the user to do: better control the weave and flow of energy in focus magick. And what is focus magick, everyone?”

Several hands went up. Master Naal pointed.

“Master,” said an ashanti boy in the back with a thick accent. “It’s magick you have to concentrate to keep up.”

“Yes, concentration, and…? What’s the second important part of focus magick? Remember, it’s in the title itself…”

“A focus!” chimed several staggered voices.

“Marvelous, that’s right,” Master Naal said. “It requires concentration and a focus. Enmap bracers offer you just that: a brilliant focus created just for that purpose. There’s very little focus magick that can’t be improved by practicing with enmap bracers. Now, unfortunately, crafting enmap bracers takes many months of hard work and expensive materials to produce, so the Academy doesn’t own enough bracers even for the senior classes. For today, a single pair will suffice. One at a time, I want you all to come up to the stage, tell me your animis, and we will see the effects a single bracer can produce. I’ll be wearing the other one, just to keep everyone safe. I expect quite the lightshow!”

The nervous whispers turned into enthusiastic chattering. Aeo did not chatter. He simply hid his hands in his lap and looked down at the floor.

Jhote started the presentation. With an animis of abjuration, the Antielli boy focused and a sphere of bright sapphire light appeared in his hand. It looked like one of the luspheres that floated above the refectory.

“Very good, feel the ease with which the energy flows through the bracer. Isn’t it brilliant? Who’s next?”

The next student, an Antielli girl with curly hair in the front row, went up while Master Naal removed all three buckles of the bracer from Jhote’s arm with a quick gesture. Jhote sat down, and Master Naal placed the bracer on the girl’s forearm. As her animis was liquid thaumaturgy, Master Naal produced a small vial of water from the table on the stage. The girl must have been a star pupil, as the water seemed to leap from the vial into the palm of her hand. It then snaked around the bracer like a serpent, even weaving itself in between her fingers before stopping itself back into the vial.

“Brilliant, Bevelli! Fun, no? It makes it seem as though all your practice has finally paid off. Next!”

One by one, each student in the class rose and took to the stage. Some created arcs of electricity between their fingers, some illuminated the already brilliantly-lit classroom in blinding flashes, and the ashanti boy that had answered Master Naal’s question earlier healed a small abrasion that had happened to another boy’s knee. One student even transmuted a small glass marble into a cube shape, then into a pyramid. The student right next to Aeo, a white-haired ashanti girl whose hair fell to her waist, took the stage and created exactly what Master Naal had anticipated: a literal fireworks display that she described as an “emergency flare” her parents had taught her in case she ever got lost in the forest. It very nearly showered the front row in sparks. Needless to say, the students cheered.

“Excellent, everyone, excellent work! You all have mastered your animi with such ease! Isn’t it exciting? With practice, performing magick can become as simple as these bracers make it seem.”

The whispered escalated as the students marveled at their experiences. For a brief moment, as Master Naal removed the bracer from the white-haired girl’s arm, it seemed as though he would forget about the Edian boy in the far corner of the classroom. He even seemed to turn around the place the bracers back on the table.

“And, our final student,” Master Naal said without turning around. “Our brand new arrival from Antiell. Have you all introduced yourselves to young Aeo yet?”

Aeo turned ashanti-beetroot red as all eyes in the classroom turned to look at him. The boy without a last name. The Edian slave. The whispering increased, and some of the other boys laughed, with three in particular sitting nearest to the classroom door. If Aeo knew the spell for turning invisible, he would have cast the enchantment immediately. Unfortunately, he did not, impressive as it might have been. Unable to look up at the stage or at anyone else, he stared at the window beside him instead.

“Well, Aeo?” asked Master Naal. Aeo forced himself to look past everyone. Master Naal had turned towards the class and now wore a peculiar pair of thin black gloves. “Would you care to practice with the bracer?”

The student’s laughter increased when Aeo didn’t respond. But he couldn’t simply say nothing and ignore everyone. Reluctant, Aeo felt his body lift from his seated position and take steps to the front of the classroom. His knees wobbled as he climbed the stage steps, and his bottom lip was already trembling. There was no way he could remember his incantations.

At last, he stood before Master Naal, the scrawniest student in the class before the most imposing ashanti he’d ever met.

“Very good, my boy,” Master Naal said, clapping a hand on Aeo’s shoulder. Aeo thought he might tumble forwards from such a gesture, and giggling rose from a pair of Antielli girls at the sight of it. “Now, as Master Sirelu advised me, you have quite the animis for fire thaumaturgy, is that right?”

Aeo nodded in the slightest way possible, his gaze transfixed on the ground.

“Here, Aeo, your arm,” Master Naal said, offering the bracer to the Edian boy. Aeo looked upon it; it really was quite a work of art. The buckles and decorations gleamed in the sunlight, the sienna ayvasilk weaving around the edges spun perfect patterns, and the beautiful red leather seemed aged and refined like polished oak. Aeo rolled up his sleeve and lifted his left arm to Master Naal, and the old teacher slid the bracer on. With a flick of his hand, the bracer’s straps tightened and buckled around Aeo’s arm, slightly cutting off the blood supply to his hand. “There we are. Now, stand about an arm’s length back, lift your arm, and cup your hand, just as Master Sirelu taught you.”

Aeo closed his eyes for a moment and obeyed, his hand cupped upwards. Nothing felt inherently different. But, just as he had practiced, he imagined all the heat from his toes rising to his legs, then up his waist and stomach, through his chest and down his arm towards his waiting hand. For a moment, he thought he felt something.

Nothing happened. Not a single spark. Everything fell terribly quiet.

“Need assistance, my boy?” asked Master Naal. The same three boys that had laughed before began whispering to each other and smiling unfriendly smiles. The powerful heat that should have been descending down Aeo’s arm was now ascending to his head. Aeo strained again to produce even a candle’s worth of flame on his fingertips, but he might as well have been holding his hand out to Master Naal for a piece of candy.

Aeo’s eyes darted over to the three boys. They weren’t stopping. At this point, they knew they were distracting him. It made them laugh all the more, and the class followed along.

Their commotion was not lost on Master Naal.

“Come now, everyone,” he said, not pointing to anyone in particular. “Let’s not be rude. Give Aeo a moment, the bracers can take a moment to get used to…”

Nothing was working. Perhaps he should have gracefully bowed out. He should have taken the bracer off and returned to his pillow.

But he didn’t. He was looking directly at the three boys. All three were Antielli.

Somewhere inside his brain, their eyes, their laughter, and their gestures struck a deeply-rooted nerve, a nerve Aeo had never before explored. The words ‘Edian bastard’ floated through his head as plainly as if one of the boys had said it aloud. A horrifying thought arose, or at least one that should have been horrifying: everything about the three Antielli boys deserved to be eradicated. Their twisted grins. Their manic eyes. Their very bodies should be incinerated in the heart of the sun and refused existence for one day more. Aeo’s vision of the gentle sun turned bloodthirsty in his imagination as he watched them continue to enjoy his discomfort.

Aeo’s hearing faded; his vision blurred. Aeo focused so powerfully upon the three boy’s warped glee that he didn’t realize that their faces were slowly turning into looks of horror.

Someone yelled from across the room.

Something bright had enveloped his left arm.

Aeo broke his concentration on the three boys and looked. His entire forearm, enmap bracer and all, burned with ferocious ruby-red flames as bright as the surface of a star. His eyes tracked the formation of the terrific bonfire upward and calmly noticed they were consuming the green curtains above the stage.

Someone again yelled from across the room. Aeo lazily gazed off the stage towards the classroom door. It was Master Naal. What was he saying? He heard his name.

“Aeo! Stop! Please!”

Stop. What a funny concept. Stop.

Aeo’s gaze turned back to the ruby-red flames now engulfing the sleeve of his Academy robes. This felt right. For the first time in many years, he couldn’t imagine anything more satisfying than the primal animis that raged from his hand. With this power, he could do anything. He could stop the staring and the whispers. He could make people stop laughing. He could make them disappear. What if he wore both bracers? How much more powerful could he become? Perhaps he could annihilate in two directions.

Someone was still yelling at him.

Then several voices.

A strange sensation took control of his left hand. Some unseen force was trying to close his hand.

But… but that would make the fire go away.

He resisted it. Nothing would make this end. He would let it consume him first. He would burn down the entire Academy. He would end his life before letting the fire die. He would-

With a delightful bloop, a violet sphere absorbed his hand like a playful bubble. The entire ruby-red conflagration died. As if all his weight had been held by a molten string now vanished, Aeo collapsed to the ground, his Academy robes still quite on fire.

Aeo’s hearing returned. All sound hadn’t died; the roar of the flames had deafened him. The room was, in fact, quite loud, filled with the cries of frightened children and the shouts of other Masters attempting to calm them. For some reason he felt… raindrops on his face. Aeo’s eyes couldn’t focus. His energy had been consumed in the flames, and he barely had the power to turn his head towards where Master Naal had been standing.

Leon now raced towards him from the door of the classroom, looking quite haggard. Somehow, he had taken Master Naal’s bracer and put it on his own arm in no time at all. Wait, his office was on the other side of the Academy. Had he been watching the class the whole time?

“Aeo!” he cried, crouching and smothering the flames that grew on Aeo’s robes. He then lifted the boy in his arms. With a flick of his wrist, the enmap bracer released from Aeo’s arm, falling to the stage floor, apparently quite unharmed from the flames. “Aeo, can you hear me? Speak to me, Aeo, say something! Can you see me? Blink if you can see me!”

Aeo attempted to blink. It was more of an eyelash flutter.

“Master Naal, call the Sanareum! How long was his outburst? What caused this?!”

“About fifteen minutes, and I have no idea! I couldn’t approach him to ward his hands, even with a bracer on!” shouted Master Naal from across the room, who seemed to be directing fellow thaumaturgists in extinguishing the flames that licked the ceiling. “But it was exciting to say the least! I daresay we have a master flame thamaturgist on our hands!”

“Not now, Edin!” Leon shouted angrily.

Fifteen minutes…?

No. It couldn’t have been that long.

Leon turned to Aeo, patting out the last remaining flames and placing a hand on the boy’s head. “This is my fault, Aeo… Had I known this was your lesson today, I would have made you skip class…”

Aeo couldn’t even unconsciously look guilty.

Voices of the Shattered Sun – Magick and Animis

edge of the world

by Unknown (perfect picture, no certain identifiable artist…)

“What, ser, is magick? What is animis?

“Without knowledge and understanding of the art of magick, all you might see is a bunch of waving hands or sticks, a puff of smoke, and a rabbit where but moments ago there wasn’t one. Magick may have made that rabbit appear or it may not have. You never know these days, and one should never purchase a formerly invisible rabbit (I’ll leave you to figure out why). But there’s one thing that magick is not, and that is creating something from nothing.

“You could say magick is control over the elements. You’ll certainly see thaumaturgists both old and young (mostly the young) slinging whips made of fire, playing catch with two-ton boulders, and conjuring lightning storms from boiling cauldrons. But the world is full of elements, both rare and common, that make up the whole of being, and not all of them take kindly to being controlled. You may see conjurers calling forth creatures made of bone, stone, crystal, or water to fight and crumble on their behalf, but they soon discover that these abnormalities of the natural world have wills of their own.

“You could say that life is magick, but the forces and laws that govern the universe don’t belong to life only. Even rocks contain the power and potential for destruction, and the stench of death and decay invites a new beginning of creation.

“So what is magick? What is animis?

“Magick is the weaving and manipulation of energy, and animis is the weaver’s will to manipulate that energy.

“I say the concept is simplistic (some may call it absurdly over-simplistic), but our world is anything but simple. The Goddess is reliable but stubborn and set in Her ways; only through dedication to Her will can she be convinced to acquiesce. To act to the contrary is to wilfully injure Her. Thus, the complexity of magick comes from the procedures and forms necessary for change to occur. Energy can be channeled in countless different ways, with just a thoughtless flick of the wrist or through complex ceremonies that take months of intense planning and great amounts of resources. Even then, without an understanding of the true nature of the rite, it’s all so much useless chanting, flailing, and nonsense. Designing rituals is not for the faint of heart; there are dire consequences for inappropriate stick-waving. Not everyone has the same innate ability to harness energies towards beneficial purposes. Just as babes develop the proper faculties to understand and control their untamed emotions, so too do the apprentices of magick strive to understand their relationship to the world and how their wills can help shape the reality around them.

“In fact, while on the subject of emotions, you’ll often find the effects and effectiveness of magick affixed to your psychological state. Fury can fuel the whirlwind, but a healer trembling with grief and anger can cause just as much harm. Paradoxically, however, passion can and has fueled the greatest of miracles, and immense calm has torn the world into pieces. We have seen the effects of such devastation on the face of our dear heavenly sphere: the Wound. Even now we fail to understand the full effects of the Wound and what it means to the futures of our children and their children. The hatred of nations may well have rung the death knell of our fair Goddess, despite what your particular religion might say to the contrary. What disturbed and no doubt emotional minds crafted the weapons used to tear open the Wound, I can only wonder.

“That is why the study of magick has become so vital to the many races of this world. If there is ever to be any hope of undoing the damage wrought by the hands of our humil, ashanti, and eshain ancestors, we must learn all the Goddess has to teach us. No avenue of research should be sealed, no tradition should go unscrutinized. A single student of magick, studying the most obscure of ordinances, could hold the key to Tiathys’ survival.

“Call me a charlatan. Many have. Mock me as a madman for prophesying the End Times. But never let it be said that I did not attempt to repair that which became broken. Never let my devotion to the Goddess be denied. I will continue to teach my apprentices all I know and deny them nothing besides that which I cannot possess. Lend me your condemnations; they will fuel my desire to protect my Sacred Mother from the schemes of cowards and warmongers. Your propaganda will not flourish in San’Doria so long as Ashant remains true to this cause.”

-Letter to General Ledenot of the San’Drael 4th Division from Master Petrovo Va’jan of the Everspring Academy, A.R. 5, Month of Frost

Manifestation

Magick can be defined as the utilization of energy to influence the natural world through supernatural change. This can manifest in a number of ways, including the more ‘traditional’ schools of magick:

  • Thaumaturgy: the practice of elemental manipulation for constructive or destructive ends
  • Conjuration: the practice of weaving energy into physical forms and vice verse
  • Essation: the practice of quickening the natural course of healing through surgical and magickal means
  • Abjuration: the practice of protecting oneself and others through deflection and absorption of energy
  • Transmutation: the practice of changing the physical and magickal properties of physical matter in a permanent manner
  • Illusion: the practice of changing the physical or magickal characteristics of living or nonliving matter in a non-permanent manner
  • Astrologica: the practice of divining the past, present, and future through the study of the stars and astral bodies of the heavens
  • Alchemy: the practice of extracting, purifying, and distilling animis from plants, minerals, insects, bone, and much more

Although some magick practices and rituals cannot be categorized in any one or several categories (or none at all), magick is a system based on universal laws. Animis, or the potential magickal will of the user, determines not only the limits of one’s ability to influence the physical world but the types of abilities one is capable of. For instance, a student of magick may discover an innate ability to manipulate the flow of elemental matter such as gases or liquids, but may find manipulating solid matter difficult or even impossible. A sanare might have the ability to influence the flow of blood and humours in a humil or ashanti body, but have no talent producing wards that might prevent a corpse from decomposing. Exceptional individuals can work to improve their skills in magick that opposes their unique animis, but such study often takes a great amount of patience and tutelage beneath a talented teacher.

Discovering one’s animis takes time, effort, and an open mind. Scholars and magi across the world have attempted to create a ritual or a device to measure or identify the animis of a being without experimentation. But thus far, such technology has eluded even the most brilliant of minds.

Animis naturally occurs in great abundance in many types of matter both living and unliving, including plants both beneficial and poisonous, within the bodies of beasts and animals, solidified within minerals and crystals, liquified or aerosolized into aether (such is present within the Everspring and other natural wellsprings), and even within dead and decaying corpses (although utilizing this final example is usually strongly discouraged). Again, not all animis is the same, as different materials will lend themselves to different weavings of magick (such as firebuck leather used in the crafting and utilization of energy manipulation vambraces and the unique brightower silica of luspheres).

It is important to note that while some form of animis is required to perform magick, animis is not energy, strictly speaking. It is speculated to be a supernatural characteristic present in almost everything, much like the ashanti belief of the spiritual ‘soul’. Most believe it to be a resource native and unique to the physical world of Tiathys like water or timber. Some postulate it originates with the Goddess Herself, although this is debated in most circles, the most important question being: if animis has a divine origin, how and why is natural animis used in the practice of barbaric and evil acts? Historical scripture and the Goddess Herself are silent on the matter.

History

According to Eshain tradition, the concept of magick as well as the source of animis can be traced back to the founding of the first civilization of Rehipeti in what would become the lost continent of Preii Valu. It was there that Tiathys Herself instructed The Ashen Priestess and her followers in the earliest forms of conjuration, thaumaturgy, and supernal healing, utilizing a natural overflow of magick that would be named for the Ashen Priestess herself. These primal practices were then refined through the centuries as the descendants of Rehipeti founded Eshain and later Antiell and Edia.

As humils in Rehipeti learned magick in the East, so too did the ashanti learn of magick in the West through the Goddess’ influence. With access to the Everspring and an untamed wilderness to call home, their newly-acquired abilities reflected a decidedly natural tone which they used to construct a great civilization that spread from the South Sea as far north as the Wilwor River Basin. Magickal flows and eruptions in the Everspring offered evidence of a second greater Wellspring somewhere to the west. Despite the best efforts of their greatest mystics, however, the ashanti never discovered this second mysterious font of power.

Due to the last century of conflict with its neighbors, Edian magick tradition has become semi-mystical and poorly understood by the Ashanti and Antielli. Edian priests insist their practices have returned to the shamanistic ways of the ancient Eshain. Antielli rumor describes Edian magick as foul and detestable, including taboo practices such as humil sacrifice, necromancy, and adoption of blasphemous xa’rith rituals. Only the ignorant and prejudiced believe this, however, despite the vast amounts of state propaganda stating such.

The xa’rith of Edan, having no ability to practice magick at all besides the most basic alchemical arts, view common Antielli, Ashanti, and even Edian magick as repulsive. For centuries, their tribal teachers and elders have warned their children to avoid the plagues of magick, and some even advocate for olmi dravka (xa’rith for “sacred conflict”) to stomp out all traces of magick from the face of the earth. Were it not for their small numbers and primitive weapons, they might have made good on their threats – if a known scholar visits Alefeu without protection, it is nearly guaranteed he or she will be dragged into the streets and beaten publicly.

Localization

The search for animis and the development of the magickal arts is the main reason for many of history’s migrations, including the ancient’s migration from Rehipeti to Eshain in 2400 A.L, the settlement of San’Drael by settlers from Eshain in 247 A.L., and the settlement of Aurion in 234 A.L. It’s also the primary reason (and martial weapon) for many of the wars of the last five hundred years, most notably the Great War that resulted in the magickal cataclysm and the Wound.

Animis in the form of liquid and gaseous aether can be found in many different parts of the world, from small underground basins to cavernous wellsprings and overflows. Villages and towns have been founded to capitalize on its production and refinement, and academies have developed to study the effects of these supernatural springs on the surrounding plant and animal life.

There are two (possibly three) areas of the world wherein lies little to no animis: all mapped areas within roughly fifteen (15) leagues of the Wound, one-hundred and sixty (160) leagues in every direction surrounding the Mahwiel (purportedly), and the entirety of the northeast landmass of Eshain Ka (now known only as the Blasted Lands). If a scholar wishes to explore these areas, they had better bring a large supply of animis-filled provision with them, else they’ll soon find their over-reliance on magick a heavy burden to bear.


What do you think? Confusing much? I had fun writing what I would think a master of magick would say to a snooty general who thinks of it as nothing but a means to an end, a weapon he can point at his enemies.

Also, visit my World Anvil for spoilers into Alyssum if you dare! Or don’t, and suffer in darkness while I write! Bwahahaha!

 

Voices of the Shattered Sun – Adienne’s Story (Part One)

Quiet and dark sat the small single-story farmhouse on the edge of Renfell Village, mirroring the landscape around its small fenced yard; the hardwheat-filled farmland that surrounded the house had once belonged to the original owners, but ever since they passed away, it had been sliced up by the bank that owned the mortgage and sold it all off in parcels to people looking to build new homes and get a taste of the country life.

Those original owners just so happened to be the grandparents of one Adienne Lyn Petersen, a young woman who had grown up inside the creaky little home. They had left her everything the bank didn’t already own, namely the farmhouse property, the furnishings inside of it, and what remained of the retirement Grandfather Caleb Petersen had set aside during his forty-five-year career as the town ritual healer, or sanare. If you’re wondering how much the amount was, suffice it to say that the amount would look a mite different to a single twenty-one-year old woman than it would to a seventy-six-year-old man with a family. Nevertheless, it would certainly be enough to keep Adienne fed and clothed for at least a few years, and if invested wisely, would help her get the education she needed to survive on her own.

Not that money seemed to matter much at the moment. In fact, the only thing that mattered was the awful silence inside the farmhouse. It was maddening. Although it seemed as though nothing in the house had physically changed in the last twenty years, the last six months alone had brought a whirlwind of changes to the Petersen home.

First, Eliza Jane, Adienne’s grandmother, had fallen ill and remained so despite all of Adienne’s and Caleb’s best efforts to help her condition improve. It was a bit expected: the Wilting disease had flared up all across the countryside the spring prior, and even Adi and her friend Owen Larsintry caught it, coughing and gagging for weeks on phlegm and gasping for air. Eventually, the symptoms disappeared. But in Eliza, they intensified. Caleb brought a mask filled with aetheris crystals from the sanareum to help Eliza breathe, but it did nothing to improve her bone-rattling cough. From perfect health to her deathbed, it only took two months for Eliza to lose her short-lived battle with the lung-ravaging illness. It was bad enough to hear her cough echo through the small farmhouse through all the hours of the day and night. It was all the worse to hear them suddenly fall silent as she passed on from life, suffocated by her body’s own natural defenses.

The funeral was short, and the flowers were beautiful; the Petersen’s didn’t lack for friends, but they lacked for family. Adienne had only known her grandparents since she was a small child, as the War had taken both her mother and father. In this, she was not unique. In fact, many of the friends who came to Eliza’s funeral had themselves lost parents and loved ones. The catastrophe that had caused the Wound alone not seventeen years ago had changed entire demographics overnight.

But with the loss of Eliza, Adi lost more than a grandmother. And Caleb had lost more than a wife.

c4d87ff86898b7d24287666247db57ad

Caleb and young Adi.

Caleb seemed to soldier on, squaring his shoulders as much as he could and standing as the anchor Adi needed as she grieved. He continued as Renfell’s sanare for three months and three weeks more before he too passed away. One morning, he rose from his bed, greeted his granddaughter in the kitchen, kissed her forehead, and headed out the door with his coat on his arm. It was the last time Adi would ever see him alive. About halfway on his walk to the sanareum, Caleb Petersen collapsed on the side of the road, clutching his chest. A few days later, Adi would stand alone, so very alone, at the edge of her grandfather’s oak casket, unable to be comforted.

No matter how concerned they may have been about Adi’s future well-being, the crowd of friends eventually moved on. The only two familiar faces that promised to see her regularly was her grandfather’s accountant (naturally) and Owen Larsintry, her confidant and friend since childhood. At one time, other friends had teased her because of her relationship with the awkward boy.

But those friends had disappeared. Owen had not.

The lusphere shone above Adi’s left shoulder as she and Owen approached the dark farmhouse. The sound of crickets filled the air, punctuated with the sounds of their footsteps upon the gravel walkway. Adi’s eyes were red and puffy, but the tears had since burned away. They would no doubt return soon. The white light from the lusphere increased as Adi reached the front door, hovering from her shoulder to land gracefully upon the wrought iron brazier that hung bolted to the stone beside the wooden frame.

“Hey, Adi…” Owen said quietly, adjusting his spectacles. “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay over tonight? I know I wouldn’t want to be alone right now.”

“I’ll be fine,” Adi said as she turned around, the phrase coming out for more distant than intended. “Like Maribel said, I… I just need to learn how to be strong… and independent…”

“Maribel can take her ‘strong and independent’ and violently kick it down the road,” Owen said. “That’s not good advice. In fact, that’s very bad advice, and I know you know that. You just lost your grandfather… And you’re not very distant from losing your grandmother, either. You know what I was like when my Da passed.”

“I know. And thank you for stating the obvious, wickhead,” she said, just daring a smile to cross her face. None did, though Owen appreciated the effort.

“See? Calling me names is making you feel better already. You can call me all the bad names you like all night, so long as it makes you happy. I should think this quiet house would drive you mad.”

Adi shook her head.

a61936cba6926babc4a599c6feeacf28

From Pillars of Eternity (he had the right face 😀 )

“Owen, I’ll…” She sighed. “I’ll be fine. Really. I just need some time. Besides, I’ve already gotten used to the house being quiet. Papa would often return home after I was in bed, and he’d be off to work before I got up. And Nana was quieter than me before she got sick. It’ll just be… different.”

Bad different, I should think.”

“Maybe.”

“At least until school starts, right?” Owen said. “And then you’ll have plenty to keep your mind occupied. I’ll be over every night struggling to understand alchemy the way you do.”

Adi nodded.

“Taking the sanare exams won’t be the same without Papa’s help.”

“I’m sure my Ma would love to help you. You’ve seen her garden, you could come up with all sorts of strange mixtures with all the herbs and flowers she grows. All she’s lacking are the fancy glass cups. And what’s that copper thingy you have what looks like a bent raindrop?”

Flasks, first of all. And it’s called a retort.”

“Yeah, those.”

“I thought you said you’d taken an alchemy class before,” Adi said wryly.

“I said I’d used a mortar and pestle before,” Owen replied. “It’s pretty much the same thing.”

“I’m pretty sure it isn’t,” Adi said, producing her housekey from her jacket pocket.

“But it did make you forget about everything for a few seconds, didn’t it?”

Adi paused, giving Owen “the look”. She’d had many years practicing it, of course, with Owen being a familiar target.

“Nice try,” she said.

“I thought it was.”

“Really, though, thank you, Owen,” Adi said, folding her hands around the key. “But I’ll be fine tonight. I have some… personal things around the house that I have to set in order before tomorrow afternoon, and I thought I’d rather get them done sooner rather than later. It really will help me keep my mind off things.”

Owen paused, giving Adi “the look”. It was different from her “look”, much more suspicious of falsehoods and involved a greater arching of the right eyebrow.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“Okay,” he said, taking a step towards the road home. “But… make sure to leave the lusphere on tonight.”

“Why?” Adi asked with a frown. “You planning on scaring me through my window again?”

“No, I was just…” Owen frowned and looked to the ground pensively, taking Adi by surprise. “I was just thinking… Grief and depression are a lot alike, they put you in the dark and force you to stay there for as long as they can. But lights can help keep the dark away. Even a literal light. I just don’t want to think of you hiding in your closet tonight, hiding in the dark. Illuminate thy sons and thy daughters afield with reflections of knowledge and starlight… I suppose your lusphere could act like a star tonight.”

Adi blinked.

“I didn’t think you paid attention in seminary,” she said.

“I do sometimes,” Owen said.

Adi stepped forwards and wrapped her arms around Owen, pulling him close. He gave off a nervous laugh and embraced her in return.

“I promise not to hide in the closet,” Adi said. “This time.”

“And no time afterwards,” Owen said. “Right?”

“Aww. But I have such a comfortable spot in there.”

Owen pulled back, pointing a finger at Adi’s face.

“Tears are okay. Hiding from them is not. No matter what that old fussbudget Maribel Corsel says.”

Adi nodded.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Anytime,” he said back.

Owen turned and walked down the gravel path and beyond into the dark of the evening, heading west beside the road towards the lake and his home. For a moment, Adi watched him go, allowing herself a moment to get her bearings. Although a bit overly dramatic at the best of times, Owen was growing to be more than a friend. The more that her family and friends disappeared from her life, the more he remained. Part of her was telling to truth; there were many boxes of her grandfather’s belongings to organize and send back to the sanareum. But there was no real deadline.

Maybe one day, she would have the courage to stop lying to Owen out of convenience. Maybe he would understand if he knew there was more than grief. Maybe he already did. She didn’t want to press the issue hard enough to find out. She would never know how to explain it.

*          *          *          *          *

Unlocking the door, Adi stepped into the dark living room with practiced steps. She whispered “lus’vai” to the sphere hovering at the doorframe, and it followed her inside, lighting up from pure white into a warm orange-yellow. Removing her jacket and placing it on the coatrack beside the door, a thought dawned on her that she never thought would arise: despite the farmhouse’s tiny two-bedroom size, it suddenly felt very spacious and empty.

Tears began to fill her eyes as she instinctively entered her grandparents’ room beside the front door. The inside of the room was always kept very plain and tidy by her grandmother, and it had remained that way in the time Adi’s grandfather had without her. Beside the bed was a box filled with the leather-bound journals Caleb had kept throughout his life, filled with detailed notes of his surgical methods and alchemical formulae. She grew up loving his handwriting and the style of his prose, always writing as if someone in the future were currently reading the words he wrote. His welcoming personality filled every page, no matter how scientific and precise the procedure described.

Picking up his very latest journal, Adi took a seat on the bed and turned the pages back three months and three weeks. Following many empty pages that represented so much pain and struggle, it simply read:

“The starlight of my heart faded away today.”

Page after page following this solemn line, the journal entries became less detailed and more obscure, lacking the charm of his storytelling ability. Anecdotes about his experiences in the sanareum and funny things his patients would say were noticeably absent. Instead, short remarks about the season or changes in the weather filled the pages, along with details of something Caleb rarely ever talked about: his regrets.

“My dear Adi is no longer a little girl,” Caleb wrote a week before his death. “Oh, that I could see her shine like the sun. She already aids me in ways I cannot describe. I love you, Adi. Would that I could tell you this more often than I already do. Your mother and father would have been so proud of the woman you have become.”

“Somehow you knew,” Adi said, tracing the words on the page with her finger. “Why didn’t you tell me? I could have done… something. Anything.”

Being careful not to spill her tears on the delicate pages, Adi turned to the last journal entry Caleb ever wrote. The last line had no clarification:

“I could not solve it. Please take care of them.”

What was “it”? Some disease? Who was “them”? Caleb’s patients at the sanareum? Adi’s could only guess. But since the War, the sanareum of Renfell had seen fewer and fewer long-term cases, and of the ones that remained, only a handful had been under Caleb’s care. Naturally, they had all been transferred to the care of other sanares without a problem; Caleb’s healing abilities may have been supurb but they weren’t irreplaceable.

Adi sniffed, setting the book back down into the box. The lusphere silently continued to hover, its light mimicking that of brightly lit candleglow. But then, slowly, the sphere drifted off towards the bedroom door, leaving her in the dark.

“Lus’vai,” Adi whispered.

The command must have been too soft, as the lusphere didn’t deviate from its course.

“Lus’vai,” Adi said more intently.

The lusphere ignored her.

“Where are you… going?” she asked, standing.

The lusphere increased its speed as it exited the bedroom, turning right into the living room and then into the small kitchen. With complete precision, the lusphere descended to a few inches above the polished wooden countertop along the far wall and slowly turned a cold violet hue.

It only did this in the presence of danger.

“What?” Adi whispered, her hand clutching the focus that hung from her neck. She had no other weapon. But if something in the room threatened to hurt her, she would at least be able to tend to the wound in an instant. She spoke up, even though there couldn’t possibly have been space in the kitchen for someone to hide, even for a child. “Who’s there? Show yourself!”

No voice spoke up.

But something very small drew her eyes from across the room. Perhaps invisible at first, then strangely apparent in the shadows, and tiny pair of animal eyes met her own. They sparkled in the lusphere’s purple light, disappearing and reappearing as they blinked. There was no tapetum lucidum to reflect the light like the eyes of a rodent or cat, however. These eyes showed off a timid humiloid intelligence.

Adi took a step forward into the kitchen.

No, not timid. Fearful.

It was a child.

No, not a child. There was no way. It was too small to be a child. Yet, there it was, upon her grandparent’s countertop, cornered against the backsplash and a large box of funeral decorations. In the light of the lusphere, Adi could see the child’s long matted hair that clung to the head like a rag, a thick puffy shirt and baggy shorts made from mysterious materials, and a rucksack held together with a single small button that to which the child desperately clung. Whether it was a young boy or girl, Adi could not tell. It could not have stood taller than Adi’s thumb.

Not one more step from the countertop, and the child stammered in a light but hollow voice:

“S-Stop! Go away!”

The child’s voice cracked from the stress. Adi paused and stretched her hand towards the lusphere.

“Lus’varom,” Adi whispered, and the lusphere obeyed her at last, returning to its place over her shoulder and blushing from violet to a pleasant orange-yellow flicker. “I’ll not hurt you. Please don’t be afraid.”

This did not stop the child from crying. Tears were running down its cheeks, which Adi could now see very plainly.

“Where is Grandfather?” the child asked, grasping the bag in its lap.

“Grandfather…?” Adi asked. “You mean… my grandfather?”

My Grandfather!” the child nearly shouted, its voice cracking once again. “Where did you take him? Where is he?”

Adi stomach sank and tears welled in her eyes.

“I… I didn’t take him anywhere, he… Who… what are you…?”

“Go away!” the child cried again, curling up tighter against the corner. “Leave us alone!”

“Adienne?”

Adi’s eyes turned from the tiny child on the countertop to a voice that called out from somewhere above. The lusphere again quickly hovered towards the voice to her right and instantly turned deep translucent purple. This time, however, there was no one to see. At first. The voice came from above the cupboards, hiding somewhere behind the decorative crockery.

“Who… who’s there?”

Adi’s eyes darted back to the sobbing child, just in case someone had put a spell on the lusphere. But it was indeed still there, still panicked and cowering behind the rucksack. By the time she looked up at the cupboards, however, a small humil man had appeared. No, a boy, younger than Adi but certainly older than the child. “Who are you? Why are you asking about my grandfather?”

The boy took a seat on the very edge of the cupboard, no doubt putting on a brave face for one only a few inches tall.

“Is it true?” the boy asked. “Is he… gone?”

Adi wiped away a few tears.

My grandfather passed away, yes,” she said quietly.

“How?” came the question.

“His heart… well, it… gave up on him, I suppose.”

“Damn it,” the boy whispered, folding his arms.

“No, you’re lying!” the child screamed, standing to his feet. He didn’t release the rucksack, however. “Grandfather’s not dead! You’re lying! You took him somewhere!”

“Juni!” shouted the boy down to the child. Adi’s head spun from this strange conversation. “Shut up! You don’t know what you’re talking about! Don’t you get us in trouble with Adienne!”

“I don’t care!” Juni continued. “I want him back right now! I want to see Grandfather! Bring him back!”

The boy rose to his feet, unhooking something from his waist.

“Juni, I said shut up! I will come down there and pound you until you stop shouting!”

“Okay, just stop, both of you!” Adi shouted, throwing her hands down and making both tiny creatures recoil in fear. The lusphere dipped and dived, throwing off multiple shades of red and purple. “Stop yelling and tell me who you are! Why do you want to know about my grandfather?”

The child stopped crying, looking up fearfully at Adi. The boy up above approached the edge of the cupboard again and folded his arms.

“He was our grandfather too,” the boy said. “He cared for us when no one else would. We would have been eaten by animals, or ran out of food and water. Juni would have died of the wilt if it wasn’t for him.”

“You still haven’t answered my question,” Adi asked. “Who are you?”

“My name is Kaelan. That’s my little brother Juni. We’re not family by blood. But we’re all brothers and sisters living here because of Grandfather.”

“Living here?” Adi asked. She frowned. “You live in my house?”

“It’s not your house,” said Juni, still defiant. “It’s Grandfather’s house. You live in it just like we do.”

“We just live… underneath it,” Kaelen said. “Out of sight. That’s where he told us to live. He made it comfortable for us. It’s warm and dry, and it keeps the wild animals out. We’re safe here from birds, cats, rats, farmers… Everything.”

Adi shook her head. Please take care of them. The words on the page were ringing in her ears. But there was no way. Adi had never seen any signs that her grandfather had ever kept a secret from her. Nothing like this.

“But what are you? You aren’t humil, are you?”

Kaelan fell silent.

“I don’t know. I was really little when my real parents died. They went out looking for others like us, and they… they never came back. I remember they used to say we were ‘ahm-bli-ree’. I… don’t know what it means, or how to spell it. Grandfather just called us his children.”

“Why would Papa keep something like this from me?” Adi said aloud. “Did… did my grandmother know about you?”

Kaelan shook his head.

“No,” he said. “We never talked to her. Grandfather said it was important that we stay hidden from… everyone.”

Adi pressed her fingers against her temple.

“I can’t believe this…” she said. “How many of you are there?”

“Thirteen,” Kaelan said. “That includes Juni and me. When we heard something happened to Grandfather, we didn’t know what to do at first. Everyone’s scared, especially the little girls. Lillie and I decided we were going to come talk to you in the morning, but…”

He paused with a sigh.

“…my blockheaded brother didn’t believe me when I told him what happened.”

Adi looked down at the poor broken boy sitting upon the countertop, still grieving and clutching his rucksack. Juni no longer looked up at Adi in fear or anger. He simply squeezed his eyes shut and bowed his head downwards, concealing his face behind his hair. Adi’s countenance fell. She’d never seen anyone shaking from grief and fear, much less a child.

She bent down as low as she could, her face level with the boy’s.

“I’m sorry,” Adi said, resting herself against her knees. “It may not look it, but I’ve been crying all day. I miss my Papa and Mama.”

“You’re not like Grandfather,” Juni said bitterly. “You’re gonna kick us out and take everything away from us, and then we’ll all get sick and die, aren’t you?”

“No, that’s not true,” Adi said, shaking her head. “If my Papa taught me anything, it’s that we should always look out for each other. If he was your grandfather like he was my Papa, I’m sure he taught you that, too. There’s no way I can just… throw you out. If he told you that you belong here, then you belong here.”

“Really…?” asked Kaelan from up above.

Juni looked up, his eyes red and swollen.

“Yeah, of course,” Adi said, standing. “If everything you’ve told me is true. That, and assuming you’re not just black magick trying to trick me into giving away my grandparent’s house.”

“I’m not a trick!” Juni blurted.

“Y-Yeah, me neither!” Kaelan said. “It’s all true, promise! Wait just a second!”

Adi turned towards the older boy, and as she did so, Kaelan took a flying leap off the cupboard. In shock, she took a step backwards as a sudden tiny flash illuminated the kitchen, much like the flash of a small firework. The lusphere also panicked, flashing a violet warning and circling Adi’s head rapidly. In a split second, Kaelan had somehow “fallen” diagonally from the cupboard to the countertop in front of Juni, landing without harm. The lusphere returned to orange-gold.

“How… how did you do that?” Adi asked, stepping forward. Now she could clearly see that the older boy was indeed young, despite the deepness of his voice. He wore his dirty-brown hair shoulder-length similar to his younger brother. He dressed much the same way as well, although his jacket seemed much more padded and even armored in a dark but semi-reflective material along his arms, chest, and back.

“Practice,” he said confidently, looking up at Adi with a surprising amount of bravado.

“And aetheris crystals,” Juni whispered. “He’s not supposed to jump like that. Grandfather said so. Makes too bright a flash.”

Hush,” Kaelan replied. “You’re not supposed to tell on me.”

After a pause, he lifted his hand skyward.

“Here, shake my hand,” he said. “Then you’ll know I’m real.”

Adi smiled, lifting her hand. Gently, she took Kaelan’s hand with her forefinger and thumb. Spindly and bony but warm. Then, just to be sure, she squeezed her finger and thumb together  just tight enough around the hand and slowly lifted upwards.

“What are you…? Ah, ah! W-wait! Put me down!”

Adi obeyed right away, releasing her hold, and Kaelan dropped to his feet.

“Just had to make sure you’d react the right way,” Adi said with a giggle. “I’m pretty sure you’re real now.”

“That’s not fair!” Kaelan said, pointing an accusing finger. “Humph. Last time I shake your hand…”

Adi’s face showed remorse.

“I’m sorry, you’re right. I shouldn’t do things like that, should I? Teasing someone smaller than myself isn’t something my Papa would do.”

“No, he would,” Kaelan said. “But only to us older kids, when we do dangerous and stupid things.”

“Oh,” Adi said. “So… I have your permission?”

“Ye- N-no!” Kaelan spurted.

“You can be so dumb sometimes…” Juni said quietly.

Adi laughed.

 


 

So this is Adienne’s story! She will be Aeo’s great-great-great grandmother, born in a small village in Antiell only three years before the calamity that caused the Wound. Her story will lead to Aeo’s birthplace and reveal the source of his magickal abilities. I wanted to write something a little different in the timeline, I may or may not make this an important part of Aeo’s story (a sort of dual-timeline telling as Alyssum unfolds). However, lots of characters makes for tough reading, so I probably shouldn’t do that. I have enough characters in Alyssum as it is.

Still, I’m having fun writing, so depression hasn’t completely taken me.

Backstage Tales – Gaming Confessions

gaming

My brain isn’t fully healed, and won’t be for a few weeks while the medicine my doctor prescribed slowly builds in my system. But it’s National Video Game Day, dang it! I must celebrate it! And I’m going to do that by writing down my Gaming Confessions in a precise and well-organized list (if, by precise and well-organized, I mean as organized by my brain right at this minute). It might not be in as much detail as I want for lack of time (I have a class to get to tonight unfortunately), but it’s fun regardless.

A Game Everyone Loves (But You Can’t Stand)

Sorry, all the people.

maxresdefault

I’ve tried. I really have. Dark Souls 2 and sit lonely and cold in my Steam library just waiting for me to try again, but I can’t. I know in my heart of hearts that the Dark Souls franchise just isn’t for me. The sheer joy that comes from clinching a boss with 1/4th of your health and no Estus remaining just doesn’t compare with the sheer disappointment of losing thousands of souls again and again after struggling through masses of vicious enemies only to get jumped on out of nowhere by that one dude you didn’t see. It’s like you’re choosing to play a game where your memory card gets corrupted and deletes your progress every time you die or rest at a bonfire. Combined with the lack of a clear jargon-free narrative and a menu and combat system that takes serious time to comprehend, I’ve just never been able to get into it.

Maybe it will click for me one day, and will hop on the bandwagon for Dark Souls 6. I hope so. Everyone seems to be having such a good time with Dark Souls.

A Game Everyone Hates (But You Love)

Yay!

spore-333

I played Spore way too much. I bought my first graphics card specifically so I could play this and Fable (I guess both games could tie here). This was before I had any idea the kind of shenanigans Peter Molyneux could get himself into with his big mouth. I knew nothing about Spore before purchasing it except that it looked like a truckload of fun, and it was. I’ve played way too many hours of this to count.

Looking back, I probably should have avoided this game and its broken promises. But when promised a “galaxy-in-a-box”, I tend to overlook the negative. I’m a sucker that way.

An Older Game You Haven’t Finished (And Probably Never Will)

Makes me sad.

Ff4cast

Kain’s betrayal, Cecil’s redemption from Dark Knight to Paladin, Edward the Spoony Bard, Palom and Porom’s sacrifice… Final Fantasy IV was a special game to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t play it until it was re-released with Chrono Trigger as Final Fantasy Chronicles, and Chrono Trigger got the better part of my fandom.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have time to give the game the attention it deserves, but if I do, you’ll hear it here first.

A Guilty Pleasure Game

This. Just this.

monster-hunter-world-960x540

Holy crap, I’ve gotten into this game this past weekend. It is so much fun. And I don’t even have a Playstation Plus account. If I had the money, I would seriously consider picking up the PC version and hook up my PS4 controller to it just so I could circumvent Sony’s stupid online connectivity and play with other people.

Yes. A game that I would willing play with other people.

Don’t get me wrong, Monster Hunter World is totally solo-able. But I don’t see me getting up there too high in rank without some help. Despite this, I will still happily long sword the crap out of rathians, radobaans, and nergigantes until my thumbs fall off. I came into the series on my PSP, and I’m loving every second of this complex slice-and-dice-the-monster simulator.

PETA, eat your heart out. I prefer to capture, anyway.

A Game You Really Love (But Haven’t Played in Years)

Oh man. Zelda time.

majoras-mask-walkthrough

I was 12. It was April. It wasn’t Christmas. My birthday had passed. I begged my Mom to get this game for me.

She actually did, Expansion Pak and all. I thank her to this day.

I haven’t played it in many years, but I watch speedruns of it regularly (they’re fascinating, check out MajinPhil for the latest tech in Majora’s Mask speedrunning). It’s incredible how easily they break through obstacles that I couldn’t figure out as a kid.

A Game You Never Play Seriously (But Others Definitely Do)

Remember how I hate multiplayer?

sc2_gamescom_allied_commanders_co-op_04

Yeah. Starcraft 2. I’m in love with the co-op at the moment, don’t get me wrong. But I have neither the competitive drive nor the reflexes necessary to be a Starcraft player, much less a good Starcraft player. I am stunned at how necessary both speed and confidence are to play this game properly, and I have neither of those in any sort of capacity.

I know that Starcraft is an Olympic-sized swimming pool. But don’t mind me, I’ll just swim in the shallow end with the kiddies playing co-op missions and the campaigns over and over. I don’t mind. At least I don’t have carpal tunnel from all the micro.

A Game You Completed (But Hated By The End)

Yeah. Great beginning. Poor ending.

maxresdefault1

Dead Island was what I wanted out of a zombie game. It was relatively open world, in an iconic locale, and I’d pick up weapons and loot from luggage and tiki bars, all the while smacking the crap out of undead beach-going corpses until my paddle broke. That is, until I got my electrified katana, and all was well with the world.

And then cliché story about paramilitary something-or-other, zombie wife, ‘kick the dog‘  trope downer ending sequel yadda yadda yadda… All the freshness of the ‘tourist resort turned zombie playground’ got sucked out by the vacuum of the story. I don’t think I’ll be playing it again, but I had my share of fun with it until the ending happened. Why do Colonels always gotta be the bad guys, huh? It’s like that rank has some stigma attached to it or something.

And despite almost being stuck in development hell for six years, Dead Island 2 is still coming. We’ll see if I end up playing it. After the whole Dead Island: Riptide pre-order debacle, I’m not sure I want to shovel any more money towards the company who thought that was a good idea.

A Game You Thought You’d Enjoy (But Definitely Didn’t)

Aww. I was so excited for this game.

71o71aamerl-_ac_sl1280_

I was stunned speechless by the physics engine and all the pretty lights. I loved the voice acting and the motion capture. The first game was an original Star Wars story; sure, it may not have been canon-friendly, but it was one I was sure I wanted to continue.

By the end, I had had enough. With half the total playtime and a quarter the story of the first game, The Force Unleashed 2 was awful. Playing with the most confusing aspect of the Star Wars extended universe (aka cloning force users) and offering no concrete answers in return, it managed to resurrect the Gary Stu (or male Mary Sue) of Starkiller and make him even more powerful and angsty.

“You weren’t sure of you identity in the first game? Well, this time, you’re not even sure you’re a clone of the original guy or the real article that survived somehow! You squish AT-STs with your bare hands, but Vader controls you by your unstable emotions somehow!”

Yeah, wasn’t impressed, won’t be playing again.

A Game You Didn’t Think Was Meant For You (But Definitely Was)

I’m so glad I played this at least once.

980_1119544156

I’m not a COD player. I’ve only played Modern Warfare 2. First-person shooters are a struggle for me. So I don’t entirely understand what possessed me to pick up Spec Ops: The Line in the first place. It might have been on sale, and I think I was going through a phase.

According to critics (to whom I will defer for details about the combat system), Spec Ops: The Line isn’t the greatest military shooter. But I don’t think that’s why it was created in the first place. If you have the stomach to look at some pretty graphic imagery and understand that the game is trying to tell a very specific story about the realities of war and “heroism”, play this game.

I wouldn’t recommend a replay, although maybe it’s time I did just to take it all in again. But as an English major with great interest in the consequences of the modern Western military mentality (and the industry equivalent that seems to want to make gamers into soldiers), it was definitely for me.

A Game You Are Still Excited For (That Hasn’t Come Out Yet)

This one:

Square-Enix. Square-Enix, please. Please. It has to happen. You would shatter my heart and fill it with such happiness. Yes, it’s a fake trailer. But please make another Chrono game. And please make Janus the main character. He deserves to regain his memories. He deserves redemption. He deserves to be reunited with his sister.

We need to know the consequences of Serge’s actions in Chrono Cross. Did he and his friends free Schala for good, banishing Lavos forever to the darkness beyond time, thereby erasing its existence from history? Could the world even be the same without Lavos in it? Or does some part of the monster still exist in the world as long as humanity thrives?

I need to know.

I NEEEEED TO KNOOOOOW.

27y0r7

Fill in the blank. Ha!

Anybody else want to fill out their Gaming Confessions before the day is through? 😀

Mental Chains – The Gauge of Death

moardepression

No, it is not.

I had a mild panic attack and a whole lot of depression this week. In fact, I’ve been in bed for the past two days (yesterday I don’t think I even got up to sit at my computer until 5 PM). It’s incredible the amount of energy drain currently going on. And I don’t see my doctor until next Tuesday.

Ugh. Slow medicine is slow.

I’m not sure my upload schedule for the next couple of weeks as I will be adjusting my medication again. Things are not working as they should. But I am alive, and I will write when I can. I’ve been distracting my mind with Starcraft 2 co-op mode and Monster Hunter World, both of which I would love to review.

So yeah. I can barely keep my eyes open right now. And yet my mind is buzzing away, daring me to think about negative things. Sucks.

Backstage Tales – A Reason to Game

frostpunk_screenshot_06

Hey everybody, I’m back. Sorta. I’ve emerged from a depression coma into a three-day weekend, so that’s an improvement in anyone’s book. Nothing medicine-wise has changed yet, however, so I’m still stuck in the same darkish mood. Accordingly, I’ve had a really hard time deciding on what to write; I promised Graveyard Keeper, but something about the game is really bugging me, and I can’t explain it. Hopefully for the next blog I can iron it out.

Instead, I wanted to expand upon an answer I recently wrote for Quora, as I felt I wasn’t entirely truthful about my feelings. I’ll post my answer as I wrote it and add more to it, and hopefully it won’t feel like a rambling mess by the time I’m finished. The question I answered went like this:

——–

Does playing video games feel pointless and unproductive to you? Why or why not?

“Very much yes. And very much no. And also absolutely not.

“Very much yes, because (as my Dad would put it) the hundreds of hours I’ve put into Skyrim, Diablo, and Escape Velocity could have been spent honing more practical abilities, such as writing, playing an instrument, or picking up a more hands-on hobby like leatherworking, sculpting, or sewing. While these hobbies are expensive and often require a mentor, I don’t like to comprehend the amount of dollars I’ve put into my Steam library searching for what I hope will become my next favorite time-absorber.

“Very much no, because my electronic hobby has enabled my depressed mind to take a step back from itself and literally voyage into other worlds. For someone with depression and social anxiety, games like Final Fantasy XIV has allowed me to become part of a group of people that enjoy the same game and want to experience it with other fun-loving drama-free people. Minecraft has allowed me to become a kid again and share an infinite blocky world with friends and family in a way that would be prohibitively expensive if we did it with Legos, wood, resin, or metal.

“Absolutely not, because video games have helped me become a more confident and critical reader and writer. I love the medium of video game storytelling because I’ve experienced the shock of betrayals, story twists, and character revelations in an arguably stronger way than books can. Books allow you to follow a protagonist, movies allow you to see the protagonist, but only in video games are you allowed to be the protagonist and experience stories in a way no other medium has yet to share.

“The first time I experienced the climax of Bioshock was something I’ll never forget. Although a little formulaic, the first Knights of the Old Republic reveal really got me good. And the climax and ending to Spec Ops: The Line is something I thought could only dared be done on paper or on the big screen (there’s a reason the game developers promised to never create a sequel). Sure, you get floppy story structures like Fallout 4’s main story. But in the same game, you get the tragedy of Arlen Glass and the challenging of the concept of personhood and personal identity (what is a synth?). As the medium evolves, the stories will improve, and they’ll continually challenge us and our assumptions about what makes good fiction.

“Video games are just like any entertainment medium: it’s up to us to determine what we make of them. From Madden and Arkham Knight to Borderlands 2 and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, they all have a purpose. Find some that suit yours!”

———-

I’ve probably talked about this at length in previous posts, but I think it’s been long enough. There’s another aspect to my love for video games that is perhaps larger than all of the ones I stated in my answer that I couldn’t have covered properly in a Quora answer. And that involves my depression and how I deal with it.

final2bfantasy2btactics2b2528632529

Madness? Insert ‘this is Sparta’ meme here.

I’ve always fancied myself a very independent person, even though that couldn’t be further from the truth. I simply like to be alone, as being in a large group of people is uncomfortable to me, even if the crowd is made up of friends and family. If I can be home free of distractions at my computer listening to my favorite music and playing my favorite games, that’s where I’m going to be. That’s my default. Is that healthy? No, and I’ll be the first to admit it. Would I prefer that I spend my time honing my writing skills, or drawing, or leatherworking, or learning to play the guitar? Some part of me thinks so, but whenever I sit down by myself and don’t distract my mind as soon as possible, I open myself up to negativity the moment I take a seat.

So I’m damned: do I force myself to enjoy the company of others, building up more and more mental tension inside myself until I go crazy from the social drain, or do I confine myself to a solitary existence, playing the victim to my own treasonous thoughts? My answer is neither. My answer is to distract my mind with as many digital micro-goals as I can focus on to avoid the spiral of depression. Beat this level, obtain this item, talk to this NPC… ever on to the next thing.

This answer has always been a crutch of mine, a backdoor in case someone demands why I waste so much time on my computer. An excuse. But it’s really the only one I’ve got. Let me give you an example of how awful this is.

9780641568848_p0_v2_s600x595

This exact one.

Right next to me sitting on my desk right now if a leather-bound journal that I’ve been keeping on and off since 2011. It’s currently a little more than halfway full. My journals have been the source of my worm drawings and are filled with little cartoons and doodles. But if you ignore all the cute pictures and actually read the words I’ve written over the years… It’s not really pretty. I only write in my physical journal when I’m really bored or really depressed, sometimes both. This does not make for a very fun and optimistic read. In fact, I’m hoping that no one reads what’s in my journal for many many years, long after the sting of my emotions has passed.

My previous journals are very similar, especially my mission journals. I was a much happier person on my mission mostly because I didn’t have the burden of my mind keeping me occupied all the time. I had a constant companion and friend that kept the thoughts in check. Of course, even then, I had my off days, not to mention how devastated I felt after I came home early because of kidney stones. My journal writing stopped for a good two years after I came home, starting up again when I got a handle on life.

A handle made of det-cord.

happygoluckymisguidedhydra-small

Now, ten years after I returned home from Los Angeles, I have no companion to help me monitor my thoughts. And the thought of asking a girl on a date and going through the motions of all that again fills me with such dread that I am loathe to think what kind of man I would appear to be if I actually went through with it. Certainly not one I would consider for a healthy long-term relationship with. But there’s my anti-me bias again.

And there the book ever sits, always inviting me to write in it but ever filling with the most negative of my thoughts and anxieties. I’m writing a testament of my own darkness. I’m an observer of my own life, and nothing more, because the alternative to too difficult for me to comprehend.

A few blogs back, I said I would never throw a pity party for myself because of my depression. That I wasn’t a “snowflake Millennial” for all of my experiences. And yet so many of my male peers seem to be going through the same thing for similar reasons. How can I resent a descriptor that is so lock-step with my experience? Video games are wonderful things filled with incredible experiences and innovative systems, but when they come at the cost of my personal health, I begin to wonder if there’s anything I can actually do instead. I always have a choice to play or not. That’s not the question. It’s more of a question of what I would replace video games in my life. And nothing else compares. Not even writing, and I love writing… when I’m not depressed.

Let me tell you, the journal sitting next to me is not an appealing alternative.

Have I chosen my hobby or has my hobby chosen me? Do I play for fun or do I play to survive? I think the answer to that is fairly obvious. Is it bad that my gaming hobby (call it an addiction if you wish) is the only activity I consider strong enough to distract the negativity in my mind? Or is it just sad?

And in the end, is there anything that I will do to try and change?

No, not really. I suppose that’s why you could call it an addiction. I’m not even brazen enough to say, “I can quit whenever I want.” I fully admit to being dependent on my hobby to remain sane. But if my chosen hobby were leatherworking, music, or even writing, would it be any more preferable? Or safe?

Hey, at least I’m not doing hard drugs.

…or am I?