Alyssum: The Voices of the Shattered Sun – Chapter Five

Lupus Loquentes

Fifteen minutes later, Leon returned from the blizzard outside bearing an armful of steaming rubber bottles, all filled with brand-new spring water. Aeo’s muscles felt like melted butter beneath their wonderful warmth. Leon even placed rubber bottles on the sides of his head to keep his ears warm; he hadn’t realized just how achingly cold they’d been until he did. He didn’t even bother to move when Pick came to lick his face again, soaking his cheek in wet slobber.

<The color green. A humil hugging a wolf’s head.>

“Uh…” Aeo whispered, forced to think of oak leaves again. “Y-Yeah… good boy.”

“Pick,” said Leon. “Can you go get Shera for me? Go watch the bighorners for her for a few moments. Tell her I need her advice.”

Pick’s head drooped down low, and his nose nuzzled up against Aeo’s side as he quietly whined. Leon chuckled.

“It’s all right, Runt, Aeo’s not going anywhere. I’ll be working all day, and you’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other. I just need to speak with him and Shera for a while. Please?”

Pick’s shoulders visibly sunk, but he lifted himself on all fours and headed for the door. Standing, the wolf pup stood a little taller perhaps than a full-grown lion, and Aeo wondered to himself how much growing the pup had left. Aeo expected the cold air from outside to blast into the cave as Pick pressed his weight against the door. But to his surprise, the temperature of the room hardly changed at all (and not just because he was being smothered by thermal rubber bottles). Pick closed the door shut behind him with the latch in his mouth.

“All right, young man,” Leon said, sitting on the stone floor beside Aeo. “I was hoping we could talk. Now that you’re not frozen solid.”

Aeo frowned. Might as well make his intentions plain.

“You’re… not going to make me go back to the village, are you, sir?”

Leon folded his hands in his lap and leaned forwards.

“Well, therein lies the problem,” he said. He gave the boy an assuring glance. “If you’re asking if I’m kicking you out of the cave when your frostbite heals, the answer is no. Of course not. But I wonder if you might tell me who you belong to. You came from Olvaren, no doubt. Do you have family? Friends? Anyone who might be searching for you?”

“No,” Aeo replied quickly. “No one. No one cares about me.”

Leon cast his eyes downwards.

“Is that right?” he replied.

“I’m not going back to Olvaren,” Aeo said flatly. “Never.”

“Be that as it may,” Leon said quietly. “There aren’t many free Adians living in Olvaren these days. I imagine you might… belong to someone. I’ve visited Olvaren may times over the years, and I may have seen a few Adian children working as stable boys or innkeepers. Does this sound at all familiar?”

They both fell silent. Aeo in particular stared dead-set at his lap.

“Well,” Leon continued, stroking his rough stubble. “It isn’t my business, I suppose. But if someone was worried about you, and tried to follow you up the mountain, it could mean danger. For you. For Pick, and for Shera. For Hala, and Heem, and their family. And for myself.”

Aeo didn’t respond, casting only a passing glance at the academic.

“I’m assuming you’ve heard stories about the mephandras.”

Aeo nodded, looking up.

“I didn’t think they were real,” he said. “My mast— er, the hunters… they used to talk about them all the time. The hunts.”

“Oh yes,” Leon sighed. “The damnable hunts. Did you know the Academy at San’doria paid the bounties for the mephandras in years past? Used to be a great deal of scientific interest in their study. So few animals species are capable of communication, especially at such a high level of intellect and power.”

“I didn’t know the mephandras could talk,” Aeo said. “The hunters never said anything about that.”

“Oh, of course not,” Leon said. “It isn’t common knowledge, either. That’s because the mephandras don’t usually talk to things they consider to be their prey.”

“Prey…?” Aeo whispered. “You mean… Pick would actually eat me?”

“If Shera allowed him to,” Leon said with a shrug. He then laughed. “More like forced him to. I don’t believe he would willingly. I suspect he likes you and I too much to ever consider it. Shera herself is a different matter. If we ever demonstrated ourselves to be a threat to her or Pick, there is little question on whether she would devour us. So when you speak to her… I would appreciate it if you continued to appear as harmless as possible. Understand?”

For the first time, Leon appeared very grave, and this made Aeo’s stomach turn.

“Uh-huh,” Aeo replied quickly, nodding as his throat ran dry. “O-Of course.”

“Good,” Leon said, almost visibly relieved. “Well, it sounds like you and I have the same source for the stories. The hunters have hunted mephandras for hundreds of years, but only recently have they endangered them. Shera allows me to stay only because I have assured her that I can keep the hunters away from her and her child.” Leon stretched his arm as he spoke. “If the hunters ever discovered Shera and Pick alone here on the summit, they would almost certainly be captured or killed. I will not let that happen. And I’m hoping neither will you.”

Aeo’s jaw hung open as he contemplated Leon’s words.

“But…” Aeo whispered. “Where are the other mephandras? Aren’t there more living here? I thought the mountain was their home.”

Leon shook his head.

“It isn’t anymore. Shera and Pick are the last of the mephandras living on Falas.” Leon folded his arms and grimaced. “I have tried to convince them to leave. For their own safety. But they will not.”

“Why not?” Aeo asked.

<Because of my vow.>

The large cavern door suddenly creaked open. If Pick had appeared to be a gigantic wolf, then what stepped into the cavern made Aeo very afraid. The giant muzzle of a fully-grown mephandras passed through the doorway, followed by a veritable mountain of shimmering-ivory fur. Four massive limbs allowed the great beast to stand as high as the cave ceiling, a full fifteen feet tall. In fact, Shera had to bend a fraction to avoid skimming the stone with her pointed ears. Where Pick resembled a full-grown wolf with thick but gentle fur, any softness in Shera was covered in thick, spiked plates of chitinous armor. From the joints of her limbs to the flat portions of her skull, there was little doubt that she knew conflict and pain; wherever her armor grew, deep scars and grooves accompanied the growth.

And if it felt strange to receive images from Pick’s mind, then listening to the almost-audible words of this massive monster commanded all of Aeo’s attention as they entered his mind.

“Good morning, Shera,” Leon said, showing no fear at her sudden appearance. “I was just telling Aeo about—”

<Humans have always come very close to discovering our home. Without my kin, it is a challenge even to remain vigilant.>

At the same time as Shera’s words dominated his thoughts, he swore he could “see” the image of a mephandras in the background of his thoughts. He could “see” a dozen massive ivory creatures, all covered in chitin and fur, all surrounding a dozen more tiny wolves as their children played in the snow. One in particular stood out from the others. Smaller than most of the fully grown beasts, but playful and energetic, spots of his fur colored light blue. To see this mephandras caused Aeo to sorrow, and he didn’t know why.

Were they merely images, like Pick’s? Or were they memories? They made his head ache as muffled words, colors, sounds, smells, and sensations all fought to dominate the stage of his mind simultaneously.

“That’s right, Aeo,” Leon said, the torrent of images and thoughts visibly affecting him as well. “Shera’s kin—or what remains of them—fled Falas many years ago. But Shera stays because she must. It is her duty to protect the summit from those who would spoil it for gain.”

Shera closed the door by gripping the rope latch with her teeth, then circled and laid her great body down neatly in between the campfire and the wall of the cave. Alone she easily took up half the floor space. She eyed Aeo up and down and made him wish he wasn’t lying prone and vulnerable.

<It is the vow I made to my mother,> said Shera. <And it is the vow she gave to hers. The vow began with the Goddess, and I swear it will not end with me.>

“The… Goddess?” Aeo asked. “You promised Tiathys?”

<Do not speak Her name, little one,> Shera said, growling. <You dishonor it.>

Leon placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder, as if in apology.

“Therein lies the problem, Aeo,” he said. “If the hunters ever find this place, Shera and Pick would be in great danger… and it is likely they will stumble upon a number of secrets that must remain hidden. That’s why I need to know if anyone will come looking for you.” He looked up at Shera. “I can’t imagine anyone would. The blizzard hasn’t ceased. His tracks are long gone, as is his scent. I should think that if anyone cared, they would imagine him dead from exposure.”

As much as a wolf can look displeased, Shera did, and growled a bit as a thought entered Aeo’s mind.


“Considering no other humans have traveled this far without assistance,” Leon continued. “I would think it safe to assume that all is—”

Leon paused. His attention aimed squarely upon the great wolf.

“Yes, but— no, no, I think that—”

Aeo heard nothing. Were his ears plugged? He couldn’t help but shake his head.

Very slowly, something began to feel odd. The room became different, as if the air suddenly became dry. The feeling wasn’t painful at first, more like having a small weight sit on top his head. But soon, his ears began ringing, and a small headache entered his head through his temples. He tried to block the pain with his fingers, but they provided no comfort.

“I know you don’t like the idea of another—”

Leon stopped.

“No one will follow him. If we give it some time maybe I can—”

Another stop.

“I understand that, but there’s his situation to consid—”

Shera was becoming visibly agitated as Leon continued to respond to her silent conversation. At first, she kept the growling low, but soon a snarl accompanied the sound. Aeo’s heart leaped up into his throat as he remembered Leon’s words:

They can whisper too, so you’re the only one who can hear them.

Somehow, Shera and Leon were having a conversation without him. The longer this phantom conversation continued, the paler Leon’s face became, as if the wolf had drained the man’s face of color.


The pain in Aeo’s head grew worse. In fact, the headache in his temples began to spread to his forehead and behind his ears. A slow, steady process, like knives being pushed into his brain from multiple angles. He tried to push the headache out of his forehead with his hands, but this made things worse. The headache seemed to spread from the inside, making the muscles of his brow contract involuntarily. Blood rushed to his head, making the bruise around his eye unbearable.

“I… I know that,” Leon spoke, his voice distant. “But I truly think—”

“Please…” Aeo whispered.

Neither the wolf nor the man paid Aeo any attention. Nor did the pain stop. It grew backwards towards his neck, and his vision began to blur. His head felt heavy and thick, like something was leaking out his ears and nose. Aeo lifted his arm and reached out for Leon’s shoulder. He could hardly find it through the haze of his vision and must have looked grasping and desperate.

“L-Leon, sir…”

Aeo’s tongue barely obeyed him, the bursting pain traveling down his neck and spine. Aeo finally clung to Leon’s arm, but he could no longer see it. The pain spiked, and it felt as though something in his head disconnected and burst open. When Leon finally looked away from Shera, he seemed distant and distracted as if Shera still spoke to him.

Leon’s focus finally rested on Aeo.

“What…? Aeo, are you—”

Aeo stared at him, unable to speak.

“Shera!” Leon shouted. “Shera, stop!”

Almost immediately, the tightness and pain on Aeo’s head faded, and fuzzy vision swam back into view. The snarl on Shera’s face disappeared, replaced with an emotionless serenity. Though she remained on her front paws, leaning forward at attention, her eyes darted away. As if the wolf could feel his thoughts and feelings, her thought-voice came clear and gentler than before.

<I am sorry. This is… difficult.>

“Difficult…?” Leon whispered, suddenly incredulous. “Shera… you weren’t protecting him.”

Shera said nothing.

“Shera! You fool, you… you could have killed him!” Leon quickly turned to Aeo, placing his hands on the boy’s temples. “We didn’t need to speak of these things in front of the boy, we could have taken this elsewhere!”

Aeo’s brow raised, then lowered in confusion. Then something clicked inside his head, like the snapping of a delicate tree branch. Instantly, his nose began to bleed, and thick drops of blood bled down his face and across his bare chest. Small droplets of blood even trickled from his ears and onto the fur blanket in his lap.

“Goddess! Hold on to me, Aeo, hold my hands! Lay down carefully, now!”

Aeo sputtered and coughed, slowly laying back down and allowing the blood to flow down his throat. Still he clung to Leon like a desperate spider, even as the man produced a handkerchief.

“Are you all right, Aeo? Can you see? Can you see me? Can you speak?” Leon said, moisture beading on his own forehead. When Aeo nodded in affirmative, Leon shouted: “Shera, this argument has already been had. You didn’t need to lash out the boy in my stead! I merely wanted your help in explaining the situation to him. Have you gone mad?”

<Forgive me. I lost myself.>

While Leon’s nose hadn’t bled like his, Leon himself looked positively terrible. He was breathing heavily, sweating as if he’d hiked all the way down the mountain and back up again. Even as Leon wiped the sweat from his mouth, Shera flicked her tail in contemplation.

<Goddess help me,> Shera said finally, her thought barely an addition to the confusion in Aeo’s mind. She lifted herself off the ground and turned towards the door. <I am sorry, young one. Truly. You are welcome to rest and recover. But then you must leave. I will not suffer more humans to dwell here than is necessary.>

“Shera, be reasonable,” Leon said as the great wolf walked away. “The boy cannot simply leave. Where would he go?”

<I do not care. Anywhere but here.>

Shera stepped away with a surprising grace, much more than Aeo would suspect a creature her size to possess. Just as deftly, she slammed the door behind her with a thud. And as if in response to her prompt exit, the magickal purple candles that maintained the temperature of the room suddenly blew out with an audible pop. To Aeo’s shock, the air in the cave fell to freezing in an instant.

Leon sighed, his breath becoming quite visible in the sudden cold.

“Are you sure you’re all right, Aeo? You can see, can’t you? The first time I met Shera, she spoke to me so strongly, she caused me to go blind for a week. It isn’t a pleasant sensation, I know.”

“I can… see,” Aeo asked quietly, his vision slowly focusing.

“Oh thank heavens,” Leon whispered, and fell quiet for a moment.

Aeo placed a hand on his own forehead. He must have looked like Leon himself: white as a ghost. Leon nearly hid his own condition as he wiped the blood from Aeo’s face, but Aeo could feel Leon’s hands trembling behind the cloth.

“I’m… I’m f-fine, sir,” Aeo said, lifting his hand to the cloth. Dropping Leon’s handkerchief into his lap, his grip on Leon’s arm lessened. “Did I… did I make Shera mad?”

“No, you didn’t,” Leon said. He looked down at Aeo, clearing his rattled throat. “Goddess, you didn’t. She was only angry at me.”

Leon lifted himself, rolling up his sleeves and ignoring the intense chill now blowing through the cavern.

“I’m sorry, Aeo. The blame is mine, I should have known better. I had hoped she would explain to you more about the situation on the mountain, but… it conjured memories that are best left forgotten. Perhaps you witnessed some of them. I will speak to her about letting you stay. It is obvious you should not return to Olvaren.”

Leon looked down at Aeo.

“For now, just rest. I’ll have Pick come in and watch over you. Besides his friendly disposition, his mental capabilities have yet to achieve even a fraction of his mother’s power.”

Leon’s voice sounded hoarse for a moment at the end. He went quiet. For a moment, he placed his fingers on his temples.

“Are… are you all right, sir?” Aeo asked.

Leon cleared his throat and didn’t turn around.

“Oh, of course. Don’t worry about me. It’s, eh, not the first time Shera and I have… conversed.”

Aeo squirmed beneath his fur blanket.