Alyssum – Chapter Nine

Alyssum Title

In the week and a half Aeo had been missing, Harthoon the Drunkard became someone Aeo no longer recognized. For as long as Aeo had known him, he’d worn a thick dark beard and wore his curled hair long to his shoulders. His bloodshot hazel eyes were mischievous at best, always looking where they shouldn’t. His posture was nearly always found wanting, making him look like a tired old man. He had worn a dark coat and black trousers wherever he went, and he smelled like horse piss and alcohol.

That man no longer existed. In his place stood a completely sober, clean-shaven, short-haired hunter with bare arms made of iron and wrath in his eyes. Only his voice was unmistakable. Aeo fought for release from Harthoon’s arms, but Harthoon’s grip only tightened, crushing the boy’s ribs and organs in the awkward struggle. Strapped to Harthoon’s back was a short polearm of some fashion used for bludgeoning, and at his belt was a long dagger of frontier make.

Now distant from the roars of the wolf mother and the remains of fallen hunters, Aeo fought all the harder to break free. To his surprise, Harthoon suddenly released him. No, not released: tossed. Quite violently. Aeo tumbled and rolled down a short embankment, not scrambling away fast enough to escape before Harthoon pounced and crouched over him.

“To say that you aren’t worth the blood in your body…” he whispered. His words were uncharacteristically pronounced and brimming with venom. Without adding more, he pulled the long dagger from his belt; it had surely been sharpened precisely for this moment. Breathless, Aeo clawed at the frozen dirt to break away backwards. Harthoon jumped forward with equal agility, slamming a boot on Aeo’s blood-stained chest. “No, no, no, no running away this time. You take everything from me, I take everything from you. That’s the deal!”

Harthoon lifted the gleaming dagger above his head, and thrust it downwards.

Aeo lifted his hands against the sharpened tip, and his eyes squeezed shut.

Both then heard a crisp ping sound, much like the sound of a bard striking a particularly cogent D note on a harp. Harthoon must have had his eyes shut during the blow as well, as it took him a moment to realize that, despite his target laying prone on the ground mere inches away, the dagger had somehow missed the mark. In fact, the strike seem to bounce as though he’d struck plate metal.

“The hell…?” he whispered, raising the dagger again. With added force, the dagger plunged at Aeo’s defensive hands.

Ping, followed by a fading blue light. He nearly fumbled the dagger from the deflection of the stab.

No!” he bellowed.

Harthoon struck the dagger downwards again, this time aiming for the boy’s stomach.

Ping, followed again by a fading blue light.

“No, no, Goddess damn you!”

Harthoon, with both hands, thrust the dagger at Aeo’s head. Aeo flinched.

Ping, followed again by a fading blue light.

“Why… won’t… you… bleed?!” he cried, punctuating each word with a thrust of his dagger. Each was then followed by the bright ping and the fading of magickal blue light.

Aeo’s labored breathing paused. What was happening, how was he doing this? Was he doing this?

“I can’t kill you…” Harthoon whispered, panting. “I can’t… I can’t even kill you…”

He looked at the dagger in his hands.

“I always knew… taking an Edian into our home… was a bad idea. But no, Ariste insisted… on a child. Innocent… But your red eyes followed us everywhere, always watching, always judging. I know your kind. Parasites. No matter how kind we are, giving you food, a place to sleep, water, medicine… Your kind drive decent men insane. Foul bloody magick, it’s always bloody fucking magick….”

Harthoon looked straight into Aeo’s eyes.

“It’s gone, you know. My home. The Grey Pale. The Marketplace. The Great Hall. It’s all gone. Burned down by a magickal fire that water and snow couldn’t extinguish. The fire burned for four days straight. Does that make you happy? First your laziness drove Ariste to the very ends of her health, you drive me to drink and make me the town drunk, and then you light our entire livelihood on fire, poof,” He made a gesture with his hands. “Gone. Nothing but ashes.”

He then pointed up towards the mountain peak.

“Wolves,” he whispered. “You survived Falas by holing up with those bloodthirsty… monsters? What are you, boy? Some kind of fucking demon?”

“They’re not… monsters,” Aeo said with a whisper. “They’re my… friends.”

Harthoon’s head cocked to one side as if madness had taken him.

Friends,” he replied. Harthoon’s boot pressed down against Aeo’s abdomen, forcing the air out of him and leaving him gasping. “Your… friend… just murdered two dozen good hunters, tearing them limb from limb and leaving them to die on the mountain. Your friend just gave you to me to save its ugly spawn. You have no friends, boy. And guess what? I’m going to be a hunter again. That’s right. I’m going to climb this mountain and hunt down every last wolf, kill every last pup, just like the hunters of old did with the mephandras. I’ll be the richest man in Olvaren, and take back what you stole from me. And it’ll be all thanks to you, boy!”

Harthoon sighed, pressing his foot down harder. Aeo’s eyes bulged. He tried to mouth the word ‘stop’, but nothing came out.

“Ah, just like the good old days,” Harthoon said. “When there was wealth to be found in Falas. When we didn’t have to worry about little Edian bastards like you fucking up the world.”

Aeo’s lungs clawed for breath and none came.

Funny,” Harthoon said with a curving grin. “It seems you don’t have a magick spell to help you breathe.”

Aeo grabbed Harthoon’s boot and tried to lift it away, but it pressed down all the more. Whatever chance Aeo had now rested with the Goddess. Harthoon wasn’t about to stop, his eyes glaring down upon Aeo, savoring this singular opportunity second by every painful second.

Fire… Aeo thought. I need fire. Lots of fire.

Leon’s lesson sprang to his oxygen-deprived brain.

Imagine warmth in between your hands. Take all the warmth in your body and imagine it going up your arms and between your hands…

To be honest, there wasn’t much heat left in him. But it hardly mattered. Something had to be done, and now. He forced his mind to imagine the largest bonfire possible, a wickedly blazing fire that could melt steel and consume forests. He witnessed in his mind’s eye the heat burning his itching toes, rising through his legs and up his stomach and chest. When his imagination forced the sensation down his arms…

Something clicked.

Not a sound, or at least Aeo didn’t think it was a sound (admittedly, it might have been one of his lower ribs cracking). It was a feeling of acceptance. A concept understood for the first time. A key opening a door. A gateway opening into a warm and fragrant room. Like the first time he’d ever dreamed about the sun and its warm heavenly glow…

That’s when Harthoon’s boot burst into flames. Not delicate candlelight or an inviting campfire flame, either. A thick, turgid white-hot flame in the shape of Aeo’s fingers that clung to the cuff of the heavy leather boot like molten glass. Aeo’s hands released, and the magick expanded a few inches like liquid foam. It happened all in an instant, but he could swear the lava-like flame rolled upwards against gravity like a snake rolling sideways.

Harthoon shrieked and dropped his dagger to the icy ground, lifting his brightly burning leg from Aeo’s stomach.

animation“N-No!! You f-f-fucking Edian piece of shit! Ahhh!”

Nearly as shocked as Harthoon, Aeo scrambled backwards and did his best to inhale. Harthoon, on the other hand, flailed and danced madly at the flames that seized his leg, diving into a nearby snowbank and hastily burying it. To his horror, the magickal flame did not die. In fact, it seemed to feed on the snow as it melted, consuming Harthoon’s boot and clawing its way up Harthoon’s leg. His panic continued as he desperately tried to smother the flames with his hands. Unfortunately, the bloated thousand-celcius magick that adhered to his boot stuck to his hands like paste and continued to expand.

Aeo couldn’t look away. This wasn’t like the lantern in the inn, or the flame that Leon had taught him to hold. He hadn’t burned something. He had burned someone. Whether or not he held control over this particular flame, he wasn’t certain; the thought didn’t immediately cross his mind. He merely watched in panic as Harthoon continued to writhe in agony.

Harthoon’s hands, now bathed in flame and destructive magick, slowly took on the appearance of liquid steel. They were dripping. He mindlessly beat them against his chest and into the snow in a vain attempt to smother the heat, but it simply spread the gelatinous volcanic substance across his hunter garb and all across the melting ice. The magick splashed everywhere. Sparks hissed and crackled, and fumes of smoke enshrouded burning flesh. A horrible stench filled the air… The burning man continued to wail at the top of his lungs as the fire consumed his entire form, but there was no one on the whole mountain that could bring him relief. Even if Aeo had known how to make the flames vanish, he wasn’t certain he wanted them to.

You will never hurt me or my friends again.

Feeling himself begin to hyperventilate from shock, Aeo allowed himself to shut his eyes and look away from the terrible sight.

“Pick…” he whispered. The hunters couldn’t have taken him off the mountain. Shera would have put a stop to that. Pick still lived. He had to.

Aeo bent down and picked up Harthoon’s dagger. About eight inches long and gently curving to a defined point, he felt its weight as he firmly grasped the bone-whittled handle. He wasn’t certain about his magick yet, but he was fairly sure a sharp knife would make even the hunters think twice about trying to take him back to what remained of the village.

After regaining a modicum of composure, Aeo carefully retreated up the embankment towards the site of Shera’s massacre, leaving Harthoon to the flames. The man’s screams did not fade into the distance quickly. Only once Aeo crossed the treeline many minutes later could he enjoy silence once more.

* * * * * *

Aeo had never ventured up the mountain in dimming light. Not that he recognized it in complete darkness either, but he quickly felt as though he’d lost his way trying to retrace Harthoon’s steps. When he discovered the footprint trails of retreating hunters, however, he figured there was no way to miss his destination.

He was right. Instinctively, the moment he reached the clearing, he readied Harthoon’s dagger with both hands and cautiously moved forwards.

The blood… He’d never imagined so much blood. Harthoon’s count must have been off: the still-warm remains of dozens of hunters littered the mountainside like so many toys in a playroom. Unbloodied swords, splintered spears, wooden bows, and unfired arrows accompanied the corpses. Some of the hunters had been dressed in steel plate, some in chainmail and lamellar, some in thick leather and hide… And now he observed that some had not been armored at all. Angry villagers, perhaps. None of it mattered. Most bodies no longer had recognizable facial features, and several were missing their extremities. One or two had been completely ripped in half.

Had Aeo known the destructive side of Shera, he would have been much more afraid of her.

From what he could tell, Aeo didn’t know these men and women; they must have heard the call of the hunt and come running to share in the glory and spoils of rare game. But how could they possibly have detected Shera and sent for so many reinforcements?

Harthoon knew Shera had saved him. He’d said as much. But how?

They knew. Somehow, the hunters knew where I was. It’s all my fault. If I had never run away, Pick would still be alive… Leon. He would still be…

The wind was blowing quite strongly from the tops of the mountain, and chilled Aeo’s bare body to the core; the only heat remaining to him was sitting in his fur boots. Desperately, he scanned the battlefield for Pick’s body collapsed upon the leather sheet. After a moment, his eyes focused on the second-worst possible outcome: the leather sheet lay discarded on the snow, but Pick’s body was gone.

“No… no, no, no…” Aeo said, his voice shaking. Side-stepping the blood-soaked snow and bodies, he approached the leather sheet. Pick’s blood stained nearly half of its large surface.

In the midst of the chaos and the blame, Aeo collapsed to his knees in exhaustion and tears. The surviving hunters couldn’t possibly have lifted Pick’s huge body by themselves and hauled him off the mountain… could they? But it was the only possible explanation. Pick’s frozen corpse would be carved up with a hunting knife, and his bones and pelt would be sold to some heartless travelling merchant as thoughtless curios…

“I’m sorry…” he whispered, his eyes squeezing shut at the painful guilt. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

Sadness only lasted a moment longer. Anger then consumed his thoughts like the fury that had consumed Harthoon.

If only I were stronger, he thought. If only I knew magick. I could have healed Pick’s wounds. I could have stopped Shera. I could have…

Harthoon’s words added to his growing hatred.

I could have made all the hunters burn for hurting Pick. Just like I burned Harthoon.

The smell of the blood and viscera that filled his lungs made him sick to his stomach. Or maybe it was the sudden realization that he’d just murdered someone by burning them alive. His constitution folded like a damp napkin, and he emptied the contents of his stomach onto the snow beside the stained leather sheet.

He stopped thinking. He stopped feeling… besides the nausea. His hands and ears were numb. He had nowhere to go. Nowhere to return to. Returning to Ariste wasn’t an option; if the villagers ever discovered Harthoon’s charred corpse, they would immediately know the culprit. She would beat him to death with her own hands. The villagers of Olvaren would hang him for what he did to the village. He could return to the cave up the mountain, bury Leon’s body, and live forever in the darkness and the cold.

He didn’t deserve better.

Exhausted, Aeo collapsed, becoming like the corpses that surrounded him. The Goddess granted him a chance to escape his life, but then She tore it away. What did he do wrong? Maybe he would just lay there and freeze to death, fall asleep in the ice, and return to the Goddess. Maybe then he could ask Her why. Why was he born an Edian? Why did he have red eyes that made him different? Why did Pick and Leon have to die?

The wind picked up, howling across the ice and the cliffs of Falas. Time passed by. A second. A minute. Maybe an hour. Though he could no longer feel the chilling breeze caressing his face, he could hear it, and it comforted him.

“…”

A butterfly folded its wings, a hummingbird sounded a call. Though he yearned to listen to the thoughts of a wolf, it wasn’t Pick trying to communicate with him. It wasn’t Shera. It was something else. Something entirely new.

“…”

Aeo opened his eyes. Shining light in the darkness. The sun up above. Although all feeling had fled, he could imagine the sun’s warm rays beaming down on his face. For some reason, the sun no longer blinded him.

He heard his voice called above the commotion of the sky.

heavenly_sunlight_by_1illustratinglady-d5v1qem“Aeo…” it said.

A beautiful voice. Heaven-sent. A woman’s voice. Delicate as a field of wildflowers, but deeper than the channels of the mountain. It didn’t grant him energy or warmth, but it brought him a sense of peace. Where had he heard such a voice before? So familiar…

“Aeo…” it said again. Different this time. More direct, as if calling out to him. The sun. It offered him release. He lifted his trembling hand upwards as if to take the sun from the sky with his very fingers and hold it close to his heart.

Suddenly, a shadow overtook the sun, and a warm sensation seized his hand.

“Aeo!” cried the voice. It was no longer light and heavenly. It was desperate and harsh, a man’s voice, a voice deep in emotion. He felt a pair of arms lift and cradle his head. “Goddess of Earth, please don’t let this boy die on my charge, please! Aeo, speak to me, please, speak to me!”

Aeo’s eyes drifted upwards. The sun was now gone, replaced by the dark. Instead, he saw a familiar face.

“Le… Leon…?” Aeo asked.

“Yes, Aeo, yes,” Leon said breathlessly, pressing his head to Aeo’s. His nose had also been bleeding, crimson caked on his upper lip, and he was sweating despite the cold. “Thank you, Tiathys, thank you… Goddess, this is all my fault. I never thought it could possibly end like this… Aeo, please, can you stand? We need to get you warm quickly before you…”

“I… I don’t…”

Aeo’s voice barely registered as a sound.

“Hold on, Aeo, please! Stay awake, please stay awake! Aeo! Aeo…!”

Leon’s voice faded away, and Aeo slept in the numbing wind.

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.

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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.

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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.

In Response – The Irreversible Choice

This blog is in response to Irreversible Events on Gamasutra by Bart Stewart.


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Accepting as fact that fate does not exist (which is a huge assumption to make, but bear with me), I would wager that the entirety of the human condition rests upon the power of agency given to every human being. This may seem overly philosophical to video games, but stick with me.

One thing that strikes me as a harsh and terrible truth about the world is that while it seems that our ability to choose appears to be nearly infinite, there are aspects of life that limit what we can and cannot do. Money, social status, relationships with certain people, and education level can determine where we end up in life. Skin color, gender, and mental or physical health are all hurdles to personal choice. Government and corporate power structures, the rule of law, and even the very laws of the universe dictate to us the decisions we can make for ourselves and others.

At the same time, this terrible truth is a blessing when applied correctly. Even with the “right” connections and resources, turns out it’s still pretty difficult to get away with murder, theft, and infidelity unless you’ve had some practice (in fact, it’s a pretty big blessing that society as a whole acknowledges at least in some way that those three things are pretty rotten). People overcome their apparent restrictions in surprising ways: not a day goes by without seeing a post on Facebook of a first-generation college graduate getting their diploma or a soldier whose limb was torn off in combat finding a greater standard of living through the latest generation of prosthetics. The same laws that govern the destructive power of the atomic bomb have provided power to hundreds of thousands of people for decades. It lies only for us to choose to use our power, time, and resources towards a particular end. The consequences can be beneficial for many or for few, disastrous for many or for few, or be completely unexpected: even nothing happening can be a legitimate result of choice. Consequence follows choice, whether the effects are immediate or not. What may seem a sudden event often isn’t felt for years, even centuries, to come.

So, with the philosophy out of the way, why is choice so important in video games, whether you realize it or not?

Well, simply put, when the crumbling bridge falls or the unlockable door slams shut, people get pissed when they realize they can’t ever make those choices again!

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So much anger. Thankfully, most RPGs are single-player so the rage is contained. Until they complain on Steam forums and Reddit.

Continuing on my theme of ‘video games represent an ever-perfecting medium of pure escapism’, it only stands to reason that people get tired of being restricted day in and day out. The circumstances of our lives offer us options, and sure, we make a veritable torrent of choices every single day, but most of them decidedly non-life-threatening and unimportant. Many of them are incredibly boring or even repulsive. Let’s be honest: we make many of the same choices again and again. Why? Because of taste, ease, comfort, or even decision fatigue. Take me for instance: I choose to drink the same two drinks over and over with very little variation (Citrus Energy Sobe and Slim Fast) because I’ve grown accustomed to the taste and effects of both (although I don’t advise drinking both at the same time). Some people (like Mark Zuckerberg) wear the same clothes day in and day out so they don’t have to make a decision about fashion. Some people end up forming relationships with the same person or type of personality because they’ve grown accustomed to it (for better or for worse).

Role-playing games, or at least the good ones, allow you to step into the skin of another being and make decisions that you yourself would never have the opportunity to make unless you were, in fact, the leader of a paramilitary mercenary organization, the ex-head of security at Sarif Industries, the last dragonborn, or even a mute child with spiky hair and a time-traveling ship. These individuals, through hardship or happenstance, somehow found themselves in the middle of world-shaking circumstances, and their video games enables you, the player, to make the decisions regarding how these characters would survive or even thrive in life-threatening situations. In most games, you can make the choice to clothe your character in different armors, use different items like potions or food to boost their abilities, read books detailing the lore of the world, and fight fantastical monsters that real life does not offer.

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He never asked for this. But gamers do!

When these characters encounter choices that suddenly and severely restrict their comparatively god-like abilities, it becomes easy for the player to say, “Well, why don’t they do X instead?” And it is upon the shoulders of the game developer to explain to the player why these options are no longer available to them. I’ll give you some examples.

First, something simple:

Why can’t Mario walk backwards in Super Mario Bros.? That really bugged me as a kid. Did it bother anyone else? If you miss a mushroom or it disappears behind you off-screen, you might as well walk off a cliff, because you ain’t never getting that back. Is Mario afraid to look backwards, scared of what he might find in his past? Or was it just an engine limitation? Well, whatever it was, Mario got over it in later games.

I would call this a mechanical limitation of choice, not a technical limitation of the Nintendo system itself but of the game’s design (whether it was or wasn’t). To use Stewart’s example, this is the collapsed bridge that you can never cross again unless you restart the game from the beginning. Telltale Games centrally structures their games around this limitation, as the major choices you make have irreversible consequences (even minor choices can affect whether the story even continues). Many of these choices are even timed, giving the player no time to think about the decision they’re about to make. Thus, you could actually consider Stewart’s first example as split into two parts: the mechanical limitation of choice (the crumbling bridge) and the plot limitation of choice (the story reason for crossing the bridge).

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I’m not sure if this is a spoiler or not. If it is, please let me know.

A prime example of this would be choosing a major faction in the main questline of Fallout 4. If you believe a synth deserves freedom like any human, the Railroad is your faction. If you believe that synths are simply tools that are built to serve humanity, join the Institute. If you believe that synths are weapons that could spell the future doom of mankind, there’s always the Brotherhood of Steel. And if you believe that improving and defending all peace-loving human-looking life in the Commonwealth is more important than all this petty synth business, the Minutemen need a new general. There is a way for only the Institute to be destroyed, and for a while, it seemed like this pathway wasn’t intended by Bethesda – either the Institute destroys the Railroad and the Brotherhood, the Brotherhood destroys the Institute and the Railroad, or the Railroad destroys the Institute and the Brotherhood. Somehow, when the Minutemen lead the charge against the Institute, the Railroad and the Brotherhood no longer have a reason to clash. If you want to experience the whole of Fallout 4, prepare to play 4 different characters and then some with the Nuka-World DLC (choosing to become a raider boss or not).

Also, ever run into an invisible wall or boundary that brings you unwillingly back to a certain point? The edge of the Great Ocean in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask comes to mind. Whether they’re necessary (such as a world border) or not (like certain dumb ones in Fallout: New Vegas), these barriers limit where you can go and how fast you can get there.

The next example Stewart mentions seems to be the limitation of choice using in-game items. To use Final Fantasy as an example, you never quite know how many megalixirs you’re going to be granted, causing the player anxiety over using them now or for a tougher challenge later on. Did you know that, technically speaking, there are non-renewable resources in the nearly infinite world of Minecraft? Anyway, this isn’t quite what Stewart is solely referring to; it’s a limitation of overall resources available to the player, not just of items, but of abilities and stats that makes your player unique.

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“But I’ll run out eventually!” you cry, with tears streaming down your face. Siiimple and Cleeeean is the waaay that you’re maaaaking me feeeel toniiiiight…

Ever play the Bioshock series? Then you’re probably familiar with the Little Sisters, the genetically-modified little girls that accompany the iron-suited Big Daddies in the city of Rapture. Choosing to sacrifice them for their ADAM or saving them and receiving a lesser reward for a better game ending is a perfect example of a game designed around resource limitations. The game actually becomes more challenging if you choose to be heroic, and you get the bad ending if you choose to sacrifice even one Little Sister in a moment of desperation.

A good example of a limitation of ability would be the conversation cutscenes that occur in Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mankind Divided. A lot of the simplest pathways are restricted to those that have the sharpest tongue. If you don’t have the social enhancer and upgrades related to charisma, you’ll find yourself blundering through conversations and end up with much fewer options. Worse, you can fail even if you have these upgrades like I often did, restricting yourself even more when stealth or direct combat remain the only avenues of progress. Further, if you do prefer the stealth approach over direct violence or persuasion, you’ll often miss many items and upgrades that would be available to you otherwise. In my first sneak-only playthrough of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I played the entire game passively without ever knowing how to use a P.E.P.S. gun, as the ammo was very rare and heavily guarded. And that’s all besides the fact that bosses were violence-only affairs before Eidos patched them with non-violent solutions.

A special example of resource restriction that comes to mind is when a temporary character comes into your party in an RPG that has surprisingly buffed stats and abilities compared to your regular team members. These characters often leave your party just as quickly as they arrive unless progress is stalled in some way or the player outright cheats to keep them available. Examples include Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII, Edea and Seifer in Final Fantasy VIII, Beatrix in Final Fantasy IX, Seymour in Final Fantasy X, Larsa and Reddas in Final Fantasy XII… Do you sense a trend? While these team members are in your party, you can pretty much wipe the floor with enemies, and can often demonstrate the kind of potential your characters will achieve by the end game. You’ll suddenly feel very naked when they have to say goodbye.

One notable inversion to this that I can think of is Cidolfus Orlandeau from Final Fantasy Tactics. He’s incredibly powerful, and once devoted to your cause, will never leave your side. Unless you force him away. But why would you? His nickname (and his theme music) is ‘Thunder God Cid’!

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SUCK ON EXCALIBUR, MALBORO! Art by Morbidmic.

The third example of the limitation of choice Stewart mentions is less about gameplay and more about the mistakes a player can make while playing. I’ll call this the limitation of accident forgiveness. This can happen after important events when the autosave will kick in and force the player to accept the change or revert back to a previous manual save…

And when do we perform a manual save, children? “All the gosh-darn time,” that’s right, you’re so smart!

Even in games with autosave systems, every gamer is going to make mistakes and regret not saving when they had the chance. These times come more often when the game is a new experience. The worst of these is when it’s time to choose a dialogue option in the game, and the game itself doesn’t describe the choice very well. Hilarity can sometimes ensue, but most of the time it will piss off the NPC and the player. Fallout 4 was known for this until the introduction of mods that expanded the dialogue options.

One of the best games I’ve seen avoid this limitation of accident forgiveness is actually Into the Breach; its time-travel mechanic made it possible to reverse already-made movements and attacks once per battle. This handy tool saved my bacon many times. Even then, however, I was in the midst of my next turn and regretted not being able to turn the clock backwards just a little further. In a similar game like Final Fantasy Tactics? No such accident forgiveness. If you move or act, it’s set in stone, whether you’ve made a mistake or not.

Another game that avoids this limitation is Fallout: New Vegas, which warns you with a text box stating that if you continue working with a certain faction, you’ll soon be unable to work with an opposing faction. Unimmersive, sure, but helpful.

Also, have you ever made a mistake while playing a permadeath character? This isn’t fun.

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Three out of the three XCOM soldiers in this picture will die by the end of the match. When you consistently miss 85% accuracy shots, you begin to wonder if you’re the one at fault.

So, in the end, we have:

  • Limitation by mechanics (programmed barriers to backtracking)
  • Limitation by plot choice (plot choices that restrict options)
  • Limitation of resources (items, abilities, stats, and team configurations)
  • Limitation of accident forgiveness (ability to backtrack after making a mistake)

Which ones are allowable, which ones should be better designed, and which ones should never see the light of day again in today’s role-playing games? I think they all have their place, although I am seeing a shift from finite resource limitations in RPGs past to games with unlimited but difficult-to-acquire items that only require time and skill. It’s a good trend to follow. But in the end, it’s up to the designers and developers of each game to establish and explain the extent of each of these limitations.

Voices of the Shattered Sun – Mephandras

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“Tell us that story again, Roki! The one about the giant bear!”

“Yes please, tell it again!”

“Can you? Please?”

“All right, all right, settle down,” said Roki, folding the quilt and placing it in the oak truck at the foot of the bed. She pushed back a few strands of errant hair from her eyes and took a seat besides the three children. “But you’ve only heard me tell it a few hundred times. Wouldn’t you rather hear about Falstaad the Brave, or Glendi the Pale Bole, or…”

“No no!” cried little Mara. “The bear story again!”

“Yeah!” agree both Yris and Kraston.

“Okay, let’s see…” Roki rubbed her hands together. “How does it start again?”

“When you were a little girl, just as old as me,” Mara said. “You went out into the forest alone, just like Gramma said you don’t!”

“Yeah,” said Kraston, raising his arms in the form of a monster. “And you ran into a pack of vicious, man-eating wolves! They chased you and chased you until they cornered you against a big cliff, and almost ate you!”

Roki nodded.

“That’s right. I was only seven years old, and your gramma had let me go pick avaberries behind her old cabin. But I went too far into the woods and soon heard the howling of the wolves around me. I panicked and started to run, and that’s when they started chasing me towards the cliffs of Falas. Pretty soon there was nowhere else to run, and I kneeled down and shut my eyes just like this.”

Roki covered her eyes with her hands, and the children copied her perfectly.

“And that’s when the giant talking bear showed up!” yelled Yris, the youngest of the three.

“Now remember what I told you before,” Roki said as everyone’s eyes opened again. “The giant bear didn’t speak, exactly. Instead, it tried to show me a picture in my head, as if it were doing the thinking for me. Can you imagine that?”

“It showed you pictures in your head, like a picture book?” Mara asked.

“A bit like that, I suppose. The bear- well, it wasn’t a bear. No bear can grow that size. It was a mephandras, a terrible creature, fifteen foot tall on its hind legs with thick matted hair, scales on its hindlegs and shoulders the size of dinner plates, and teeth and claws like daggers. As the wolves closed in, I heard a loud, mighty roar. For a reason I’ll never know, the mephandras charged in front of me. It was trying to keep me safe.”

“And then it attacked the wolves! Raawwr!” Kraston swiped at the air, bobbing up and down.

“Not exactly,” Roki said. “The wolves attacked first. They leaped onto its back and tried to bite down, but nothing could penetrate its thick hide. It bit their tails and tossed the wolves away like they were dolls made of straw. It wasn’t long before the wolves ran away with their tails between their legs.”

“And the me… memandra didn’t eat you up,” Mara said, very matter-of-factly. “It was a nice bear.”

“It was a very nice bear, that’s right,” Roki said. “When the wolves were gone, it turned around and put its snout right up close to me and sniffed at me. That was when the mephandras put a thought in my head. It was a beautiful image of a quiet spring filled with colorful fish, surrounded by flowering fruit trees and long soft grass. I was scared at first, but the thought put me right at ease. I looked up into its deep red eyes and reached out my hand. Just before I could touch it, to my surprise, another creature appeared from the underbrush…”

“A baby bear!” said Yris.

“That’s right,” Roki said. “The mephandras that saved me was a mama bear. The baby was much smaller than the mama, but still much bigger than me. It came right up to me and started sniffing me… That’s when it found the avaberries in my apron. It licked them right up, and then it licked my face!”

“Eww!” said Mara and Yris, sticking their tongues out.

“Yucky bear spit!” said Kraston.

“That’s right!” Roki said with a smile. “The mama mephandras and her cub walked with me all the way to the edge of the forest and made sure that none of those awful wolves followed after me. I never went that far into the forest again, and that was the last time anyone in this village ever saw a mephandras so far down the mountain. The hunters didn’t believe my story about the mama mephandras at first… That is, until they saw the tracks from the scuffle. They tried to convince me that I was just lucky. But that mama bear saved my life, no matter what the hunters say.”

“The hunters didn’t hunt down the mama mephandras and her baby, though, right Mama?” Kraston asked with concern on his face.

“I don’t know, sweetie. It’s been quite a few years since the hunters have even seen mephandras tracks in the woods. I hope she and her cub are still okay.”

“I know they are!” Mara said, patting her knees with her hands. “If any hunter got close to the mama bear, she’d just roar and they’d all run away.”

“But the hunters have bombs and magick,” Kraston said. “The Guild Hall is made of mephandras bones, remember? They used to hunt them all the time in the old stories.”

“No way,” Mara insisted, folding her arms. “The mama and baby bear are still alive. I just know it.”

“Yeah, me too!” Yris said, copying Mara.

“I think so, too,” Roki said, patting Mara’s head. “If there’s anything that could outsmart those hunters, it would be the mama mephandras. The hunters didn’t get them all, surely. It makes me wonder where the mephandras could have gone.”

 

Basic Information

Anatomy & Morphology

The mephandras (or ursas mephandras) is a omnivorous species of megafauna that looks much like a feral bear covered in thick fur and scales. These quadruped creatures are known for their immense muscular strength and mass, often walking on all fours unless threatened or reaching upwards for a bite of fruit or leaves. Because of their size, the mephandras moves slowly and deliberately, spending up to 20 hours a day eating.

However, when particularly hungry, mephandras have been known to hunt the bighorns and elk that inhabit the rocky crags and deep woods surrounding Falas. When threatened or chasing prey, their speed and ferocity can be terrifying, exceeding 40 mph (64 kph) in a four-legged sprint. Their claws and teeth are long and razor sharp, and the spiked scales on the mephandras’ shoulders, back, and feet ensure few natural weapons can successfully pierce or stab. Their eyes are remarkably crimson red and reflect moonlight in the dark.

Genetics and Reproduction

The mephandras typically mates for life and every mephandras pair will breed every eight to nine years. The exact gestation period is unknown, but it is much longer than other ursas pregnancies. Because of the hard scales and spikes common in both male and female physiology, the act of reproduction is often a loud and violent affair, with entire trees at the site being torn apart and uprooted.

Ecology and Habitats

Native to the high mountain forests of Falas, the mephandras are used to bitter cold winds and climbing frozen crags. Unlike other arboreal bear species of lower altitudes, the mephandras is fiercely territorial. A pair of mated mephandras can “claim” hundreds of square miles, although interactions with other lone or paired mephandras isn’t uncommon. Tearing down trees and clawing at boulders are markers of territory, and the worse the damage, the closer you are to the mephandras den.

As Falas is filled with caves and crevices, you’ll typically find mephandras making their homes inside higher altitude “habitats”; not many mephandras live in the lower-altitude forests for very long. From their caves, they’ll descend into the forests to search and hunt for food, and are known to retreat back to their caves when in danger from hunters.

Dietary Needs and Habits

One of the greatest mysteries of Falas is how it supports (or used to support) its mephandras population. The mephandras is an omnivore, and seems to eat almost anything, from berries and fish to bighorners and roots. They have been known to eat the bark, cones, and needles of pine trees, though not in large enough quantities to completely strip the mountain of pine.

As the mephandras moves slowly to conserve its energy except in times of danger, hunting, or arousal, they are careful eaters, not wasting or giving up anything nutritious. Despite this, no mephandras has ever been seen eating a humil or ashanti corpse. Whether this is due to their understanding of running a risk of retribution if they did so or just a simple aversion to eating humil or ashanti meat is unclear.

Biological Cycle

As the mephandras live in a cold and mountainous environment that experiences little seasonal change, the only biological cycles that occur year-to-year are short periods of hibernation in the coldest months when food is scarce.

Every five to six years, mephandras shed their scales and spikes, allowing new thicker chitin to grow in its place. Discovery of large piles of scale and horn residue is a sure indicator of mephandras territory.

Growth Rate & Stages

Newborn mephandras are hairless and scaleless, emerging from the mother about the size of a large dog. Mephandras litters are typically limited to two or three at a time, and are very dependent on the mother for the first two years of life for milk and protection (mothers can spend up to the first four months of this important period of time without food protecting their young). Mephandras cubs grow very rapidly, their thick fur and scales appearing within six to eight months. At a year old, a mephandras cub is six foot tall and prepared to accompany its mother to the forest to eat roots and berries. At three years of age, a mephandras will leave its mother’s care and search for a mate. The mephandras will usually find a mate at three to seven years of age, and remain with them throughout their entire lifetimes. Lone mephandras are rare but not unheard of.

Oddly, very few mephandras corpses have ever been discovered out in the open, and none have ever been tracked through their entire lives. It is unknown if mephandras can die of old age, leading some superstitious hunters to speculate that the mephandras might be hiding the secret to eternal life somewhere on or inside the Falas Mountains. What is known, however, is that mephandras never stop growing as they age. The oldest and largest mephandras to ever be hunted and killed weighed 22400 lbs (10160 kg) and stood 25 foot 7 inches (or 7.8 meters) tall.

 

Additional Information

Geographic Origin and Distribution

The mephandras was originally located in the forests and mountain ranges of the Falas Mountains in Antiell. This colossal land mammal served as the primary obstacle to the exploration of the Falas Mountain range since humils migrated to the Antielli continent 600 years ago. In recent years, however, no trace of them can be found, leading some hunters to believe that the species has slowly become extinct.

Average Intelligence

A fully-grown mephandras can be expected to have the intelligence of an adolescent humil or ashanti. Many stories have been told, however, of the unpredictable moods of the mephandras, ranging between mad and violent monsters with no sense of morality to peaceful and inquisitive creatures. Few patterns for these behaviors have been linked to sex or age, although one thing has been proven: hunters and poachers looking to separate a nursing mephandras from its young will have quite the fight on their hands.

Perception and Sensory Capabilities

The mephandras has sub-par vision but excellent hearing and sense of smell. What sets it apart from other mammals, however, are its mental abilities. Capable of broadcasting images and subtle feelings into the minds of other lifeforms, the mephandras use a minor form of telepathy to communicate. The images they broadcast vary wildly from mephandras to mephandras, leading some Ashanti researchers to believe it isn’t a rote “language” but an imperfect sharing of memories and thoughts.

For example, if one mephandras implanted the image of a waterfall in someone’s mind, it could hold many meanings: the waterfall could be a place of rest and refreshment, a meaningful landmark, or a place of danger. Context clues are usually the best way to discern the meaning, although some refined mentalists and psykin have been able to feel other currents of emotion beneath the images.

In conflict, the mephandras uses its abilities to flash multiple images in the minds of its enemy to confuse it. To prey such as bighorners and elk, this usually results in hesitation, allowing the mephandras the opportunity to attack. To unwary humil and ashanti hunters, it may cause a stupor of thought for a brief moment. No matter the target, this is a sure sign that an attack is imminent.


 

This was a fun one to write. I honestly did not have the Arzuros from Monster Hunter in mind when I imagined the mephandras, but it works just so well. I have plans to make them meaningful to the second act of Alyssum, so we’ll see how that goes. I don’t know if worldbuilding or just writing is more important to me at this point, because I want to get it all out of me.

Either way, if you want to read more about Voices of the Shattered Sun or Alyssum, check out my World Anvil page! I include more information in spoiler tags if you want to get a hint about what’s developing behind the scenes. I know, spoilers for most people are bad. But I’m a writer and want to know how things are built more than I care to read the story from beginning to end.

Backstage Tales – Connecting the Past to the Present

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I am a packrat.

Not as bad as I used to be, mind you – when you’re in college, you tend to want to travel as lightly as possible (although that didn’t stop me from loading a few plastic bins full of books and knick-knacks until the boxes fell apart from the sheer weight). I have a really hard time parting with things that may have a low material value but a high emotional value, something into which I’ve placed a memory of a specific time and place. Among these things include a piece of obsidian in the shape of an egg that my dad got me from a rock store when I was little, the beaten-up instruction manuals for Warcraft 2 and Diablo 2 I used to read again and again, and my tiny, no-longer-functioning Playstation One Mini with a broken CD tray lid that I got bought from a pawn shop when I was ten or eleven along with a beaten-up but functional 4-disk copy of Final Fantasy VIII (yes, that was my first FF title, and I LOVE it).

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It looked a little like this. Classic.

Despite this, you might think I’ve grown pretty callous to some of these precious memory-objects. The very first piece of cosplay I’d ever put together was a Master Chief helmet from Halo 2, made pepakura-style with paper and slathered with plaster and spray paint. It hurts to put on, it fogs up immediately, and quite honestly, I’m not that big into Halo; if I’m not mistaken, that’s just the kind of project an early 2000’s teenage boy does. Ashamed of the attempt, I tried to throw it away, but my dad fished it out of the garbage and demanded I keep it. My skills have developed since this first helmet, but I see now how it’s a good idea to hang on to your early work if only to help remind yourself of how far you’ve come.

When I look at a particular piece of pottery I made in junior high that has been sitting on top of my refrigerator at home for many years, I try to remember what was going through my head when I assembled it. It has strange carvings and symbols that make it feel like it should have a lot more meaning than it actually does. I haven’t sculpted with water-based clay for many years, and wish I could spend a few hours making clay boxes and pots in a non-graded environment again. I remember my ceramics teacher (whose name I no longer recall) had an impressive collection of glazes to choose from, and they honestly made my work stand out.

Something I think I’ll regret until my dying day is losing my earliest writings and stories.  On my dad’s Power Macintosh, I would write fantastic stories about airship mechanics and giants and magic and what I thought was deftly written political intrigue. I would write dialogue that in hindsight sounded terribly hammy and over-the-top. I would have idea after idea, and start story after story, and it would always involve the same characters with different names, over and over, just a little different than before. I would let the Macintosh’s text-to-speech tell me my stories so I could hear them out loud, but I would turn it off the moment mom or dad came into the room. I don’t think I’d even shown them any of my writing until I was at college level simply because I was too afraid of what they would think of the things that came spewing forth from my head.

Hopefully they still exist in that old machine.

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Yup, just like this one. Classic.

It was from one of those stories that Aeo and Leon became characters, although in their original forms, Aeo had an older brother who cared for him, and Leon was a much younger gentleman than he is in Alyssum.

Do you hang on to anything from your early days that reminds you of better times? Maybe some things remind you of a time you’d sooner forget, but you can’t seem to throw it in the trash because of the psychological attachment you’ve created with it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with memory-objects. Not everything deserves the honorary title of “keepsake” or “family treasure”, but everything from old articles of clothing to files on an old Power Macintosh computer can stand as early mile markers on your journey. Some of these objects can trigger good memories, some can dredge up some really bad ones, and some took a lot of time to create or purchase.

Even names can hold special meaning for us. Supreme Leader Snoke may have insisted that they weren’t Sith in the latest Star Wars movie, but Kylo Ren had at one time been Ben Solo just like Darth Vader had once been Anakin Skywalker. Fortunately, I doubt most people change their names to go to the Dark Side. In real life, many transgender people change their names to reflect their new personal identities, and I can understand the desire to leave behind who they once were. Although I can’t find it now, I did recently read an AskReddit thread about the reasons people change their full names, and many people mentioned the Jewish tradition of taking on a new name after overcoming a serious illness or personal tragedy. Some who attempt to commit suicide set down their old names and pick up a new one as a way to dedicate themselves to a more hopeful and meaningful future.

To change gears here just a bit, I’ve been thinking about the connection to the past we all have and how we make choices based on our past experiences. The choices we make in our daily lives have to come from somewhere. Whether our choices are defined by the decisions our parents or our siblings made, or from the circumstances from which we were raised (good or bad, rich or poor, religious or not), the choices we make in the present and the destinations we’ll reach in the future are at least in some small way dictated by the past. “No man is an island, entire of itself,” after all, socially, consequentially, or chronologically. My past is made up of both voluntary and involuntary consequences. For example, on one hand, my very involuntary bipolar depression condition is hereditary, and has greatly affected the choices I’ve made. On the other, I am not fully defined by my limitations; my voluntary decisions to develop my writing abilities despite the difficulties in doing so has led me to employment opportunities where I can use my skills to serve others.

I am ruled by my upbringing as well. The choices I make reflect both the voluntary and the involuntary nature of my past. Anyone can attempt to ignore parentage and upbringing, but they have an effect regardless in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Even if I wanted to, could I separate myself from my past so thoroughly that I could act independently of any parental or generational interference? Without my memories or upbringing, for all intents and purposes, would I be a different person? Would that person be a better one than the one I am now because of the complete separation from a biased past? More or less capable of compassion? More or less detached from taking personal responsibility? More confident or arrogant? More self-conscious or mentally stable? Or just as capable?

What happens to that person when every connection they have to the past is suddenly cut? And what happens when an entire society of people suddenly forget something very important from their past in a single instance?

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Yes, two quotes in one article. Fancy.

For Voices of the Shattered Sun, I’m trying to work out two things that I don’t quite know how to deal with: what happens when a frightened slave boy is suddenly given nearly unlimited power over his captors, and what happens to a nation that collectively forgets everything it used to know about the war it fought with its fatherland.

The first one I can develop with time: Aeo is determined to not let his past define his future. Needless to say, Aeo had a name before he became a slave. Will he take on his birth name and forget his slave name, choosing to become someone entirely different? Or will he forge his own reality and refuse both his birth and his circumstances? I haven’t determined the complete circumstances surrounding it yet, but something is going to happen to Aeo (whether in Alyssum or one of the future connecting novelettes) that will cause his memories to be severed (think Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and what happened to Sora). Let’s just say that the Wound in Tiathys is more than just a hole in the ground, and Aeo is going to fall into it. The Wound is more like a hole in reality and time itself. No one ever comes back from the Wound because technically… no one’s ever fallen in. And if they had, they never were. Got it? *wink wink*

The second is a little tricky: what kind of event would be terrible and soul-crushing enough to make a royal power-hungry despot go from “fire every weapon of mass destruction we have at those bastards” to “we need to stop, bury this deep, and forget it even happened”? How would a nation even collectively forget such an event without waving a magic wand and suddenly it just happened (because that feels like a cop out). Answer: I don’t think it can happen without a very specific magic wand. What if the memory of that event were so destructive and so pervasive, the mental and psychological pain of the event would be passed down genetically through the generations of the men and women that witnessed it, waiting only for the right physical trigger to release or even spread devastating pain? Would that trigger be a word, a phrase, a sight, a sound, a scent, or…

…a flower?

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Ooooh.

*ahem* Pardon me. I just had an “ah-ha” moment. Seems I have some writing to do. What if psychometry weren’t a blessing, but a well-designed and very lethal poison? Who designed it, and for what purpose? Or, worse yet, is it just a natural phenomenon that happens to kill people with particularly painful past experiences? For those interested in the subject, check out the superpower wiki on psychometry as well as the TV Tropes page on the same subject.

Ooh, hee-hee, plans are brewing.

Names are symbols. Objects can trigger memories. There’s a reason a lot of story protagonists have meaningful names and carry or hunt for McGuffins. Some things I’ve been writing and some things that happened over the weekend got me thinking about the kinds of memories we place in objects, the choices we make, and how the past defines our present and our future, both good and bad.

But what did we really learn? That I can philosophize and type frantically on a keyboard. YAAAAY!!

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Voices of the Shattered Sun – Aeo Karandal

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Aeo, age 13 (source: Pinterest)

The bell above the entrance jingled and though he couldn’t admit it out loud, the 17-year old Assistant Librarian Liam Terelle felt dread in his heart. With every ring of that blasted bell, he expected some impatient and overweight Antielli minister to emerge unblinking from the sunlight outside and demand special treatment. That, and he’d have to put on the ridiculous-looking librarian hat the faculty usually forced the apprentices to wear. Because, oh, your business is so much more important than mine! That would make it… three, three time this week he would have to make up for lost time.

In the midst of accepting his fate, however, he craned his neck around the shelf of leather-bound tomes to see a familiar scrawny figure.

“Oh, Master Aeo. Is that you?”

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Aeo, age 19 (source: Pinterest)

“Y-Yessir,” came the timid reply. The Edian boy stepped up to the counter, quickly producing a small piece of parchment from his pocket upon which was written the titles of several books. Aeo slid the note to Liam without speaking another word. Liam blinked; Aeo was always easy to assist, but a very difficult boy to read. It didn’t help that Aeo’s red eyes never met his own.

“Um, let me see,” Liam said, reading the remarkably legible handwriting. Was it Aeo’s? “Varieties of Ashanti Spores by Wil Remar, Five Vital Preparations for Corpsefly Larvae by Junne… Yes, I think these are all in the same spot. Come on back, Aeo, I’ll take you to them.”

Navigating the rows upon rows of complicated textbooks and guides, the two young men worked their way deep into the northeast corner of the expansive first floor. It was all silent. Liam looked back a few times to see if Aeo was still following him. Sure enough, like a shadow, Aeo was, his eyes glued to the floor in thought.

Liam had thoughts of his own, of course. Most of the library staff did. Everyone at the Academy knew him simply as “the Firebrand”, even if they didn’t know his name. Come to think of it, Liam wasn’t sure the boy had a last name. It was strange enough that Master Sirelu mysteriously departed Ashant for a year and a half only to return with crates filled with unknown alchemical reagents. He also had become guardian to a freed Edian slave who could manipulate elemental fire as easily as the Heidir wield their swords. Liam had never heard of its like before. Aeo had few masters who had the talent and strength of magick to teach him. One who could, Master Naal, even praised him publicly around the Academy (hence the nickname), but Aeo never showed off or boasted about his talents. In fact, it just seemed to make the strange red-haired and crimson-eyed boy more reclusive. The only time Liam ever saw Aeo was during his trips to the library.

At last, they arrived at a particularly dusty section of shelves in the back corner, all lined with tomes of particularly varying colors and parchments. Liam lifted himself on his toes, spying the reference numbers inscribed into metal plaques on each shelf.

“Let’s see, 576… 576.8… 576.9… Ah, here’s Documents on Falas Fungi, Part One. And Lichen of the South Shores.”

Liam handed each hefty volume as he found them into Aeo’s waiting arms. Although a wiry adolescent, he didn’t make a single sound of complaint.

“And… Algae Blooms of the Everspring. There you go. Is that everything you need?”

“Hmm,” Aeo nodded in the affirmative, his lips pursed as he strained beneath the five weighty books.

“Here, let me take a few of those, you can take one of our carts back to Master Sirelu’s quarters,” Liam said. Well aware that Aeo might refuse the help, he quickly snatched the two top books from Aeo’s arms before a pause could form.

“Thanks,” Aeo whispered.

The two returned to the front counter in silence. Unsure of what to say, Liam instinctively looked down every other aisle in case his fellow librarian assistants were down one. But the day had been a quiet one, with many of the regular students of the Academy away for the weekend. He tossed a glance behind him. Aeo was still there, following along quietly.

“H-Hey Aeo,” Liam said, surprised that the words emerged from him the moment he spoke them.

“Huh?” Aeo looked up, as if a trance had been broken.

“Um…” Liam looked down and frowned. How could he ask this politely? “Do… Do you eat lunch… somewhere?”

Aeo didn’t reply immediately.

“Er, wh-what I mean is…” Liam shifted the books under his arm to the other. “Are you busy… at around noon, sometimes, or maybe after lunch? I could actually use your help…”

Liam looked back and saw a frown form on Aeo’s normally placid face.

“My help?” he asked.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Liam said. “I’m failing Master Lyris’s Emanation class, and I heard you’ve got a real talent for energy channeling… You wouldn’t want to teach me the trick to it, would you? I really don’t want to fail this class so close to graduation.”

Liam and Aeo reached the front counter and sat all five books down.

“Teach you? But… I’m not a teacher.” Aeo looked up at Liam. For some reason, it startled him a bit. “I… haven’t ever taught anybody anything.”

“Well, that’s probably the best thing for me right now,” Liam said with a grin. “Because my teachers aren’t teaching me at all. Think of yourself as an anti-teacher. Things will go smoother that way.”

Aeo looked away, lost in thought.

“Look, Aeo,” Liam said. “I’m not asking for a favor. I don’t have this crummy librarian job for nothing. I can pay you to be my tutor.”

Aeo’s face distorted as if he’d sucked on something sour.

“P-Pay me? Really?”

“Yeah, sure!” Liam paused, unable to read Aeo’s expression. “Er, that is, if it matters to you. I don’t know if Master Sirelu gives you an allowance or anything. I’m not exactly rolling in gold, but I’m, um… negotiable.”

Aeo blinked a few times, sliding his hand over one of the books he carried. For a moment, he was silent.

“Do…” he started, and then grew quiet. “Do you know anything about wolves?”

It was Liam’s turn to pause.

“Anything… in particular?”

“Do you know…anything about wolves that can talk? Inside your head?”

Liam’s head instinctively tilted.

“I… can’t say that I do.”

“What if…” Aeo said quietly. “What if you helped me research wolves and I helped you learn about channeling? Would… that be fair?”

“Um, well…” Liam scratched his head. “Sure, I guess. I’ve never heard of wolves that can talk. I don’t want to rip you off if we can’t find anything… But, then again, this library is huge, and it’s not like I’ve read every book that’s come through here. If these wolves are important to you, I’d be glad…”

“They are,” Aeo said quickly.

“All right,” Liam said, surprise flickering on his face. “I guess we have a deal.”

He held out his hand to Aeo, and Aeo shook it.

“Thank you, sir,” Aeo said timidly.

“No, thank you, Aeo. Really. And it’s okay, just call me Liam.”

“Okay… Liam, sir.”

Liam didn’t have the heart to correct him.

—from Tales of the Everspring Academy, Volume II by Master Edin Naal

Physical Description

General Physical Condition

Aeo is of slender and underweight build as a child, growing up to become a tall and athletic young man. Despite his attendance at the Academy, Aeo often finds himself away from the books and exploring the grounds surrounding the Everspring. His adventures lead him to a dangerous nomadic life on the road, toughening his endurance and agility.

Body Features

His skin color is odd for an Edian: bright white, burning bright red under the sun and never seeming to tan. His hair is an unkempt reddish-brown, eventually growing to shoulder-length just like Leon’s. Young Aeo is skinny, lanky, and clumsy, unsure of his body movements. As he grows, however, the lankiness vanishes, replaced with well-defined muscles and deliberate motion.

Facial Features

Aeo’s features are striking to even the most casual observer, not the least of which is his self-identifying and piercing crimson eyes. His slender facial features, light eyebrows, and sharp nose are very Antiellian, leading many onlookers to sometimes perform a double-take.

Special Abilities

Aeo has a strong affinity for fire magick (both invoking and control) as well as great talents for energy manipulation and personal shielding. In combat, Aeo can ignite both fists in burning magickal energy and expel this energy with great force, enabling close or long-range attacks as well as area-of-effect (the fire spreads and does not extinguish under normal means, except through special wards or Aeo’s command). This energy can also deflect blows, stabbing, slashing, and projectile attacks. Aeo can shielding his entire form in energy, but this takes a great amount of effort and cannot last.

While he is taught simple wards and transmutation by his academy teachers, the finer points of the art confuse him, leading him to rely on a simple but specialized set of adventuring magick skills including temperature control, limited water-breathing, water purification, and food preservation.

Apparel & Accessories

Unlike most of the other apprentices at the Academy, Aeo dislikes the heavy and itchy robes traditionally worn by the Ashanti. Like Leon, he maintains freedom of movement by wearing a simple cotton tunic, linen pants, and flat-soled shoes, adding a light linen-backed ayvasilk jacket on cold days. He almost always wears a thin leather necklace around his neck that holds a single ring of silver, given to him by Master Kane Dolshir when he became a student of Everspring.

Mental characteristics

Personal History

Waking up in an iron slave cage at the tender age of three is the earliest memory the young Edian boy Aeo remembers, the stale air of a dirty stable filling his lungs and burning his eyes. The next earliest memory is being sold to his first Antielli owners, a kindly man named Onris Eli and the small Eli family. It was from them that he received the name “Aeo”.

Naturally, their intention had to have been to raise him as a servant. He wasn’t owned by the family for long, however, perhaps a year at most. After all, slave children don’t offer much labor and require time to grow into usefulness. When times became tight, Eli sold this “costly asset” to the wealthiest woman in the village of Olvaren: Ariste Noll, owner of the Gray Pale Inn.

From here, the rest is history: at age ten, Aeo started an unquenchable magickal fire that burned down the Gray Pale and many neighboring buildings before fleeing up Mount Falas alone. How he survived on his own without freezing is unknown. What is known is that he returned to Olvaren under the care of a very wealthy Ashanti alchemist named Leon Sirelu, who offered complete reparations to the small village in return for Aeo’s freedom. After traveling to the Everspring Academy in Ashant with Leon, he became an apprentice in the Academy, but made few friends with the exception of the Ashanti humil Liam Terelle.

Education

Apprentice at Everspring Academy. He learns to excel at fire magick and energy manipulation, including personal shielding and minor matter transmutation. He consistently fails at alchemy, despite Leon’s encouragement, assistance, and practically limitless access to ingredients.

Accomplishments & Achievements

Aeo is one of the few Edian slaves to brave the Falas Mountains and survive. While he didn’t cross them per se, the fact that he endured the cold earned him a reputation as a survivor at the Academy. Combined with his rare talents in fire destruction and energy manipulation, his teachers praise him as a star pupil.

Mental Trauma

Due to his rough upbringing where even the slightest mistake meant physical or verbal abuse, Aeo doesn’t think highly of his own abilities and has become his own worst critic. Even at the best of times, his ability to manipulate fire frightens him. Ever since the fire at the Grey Pale, he has developed an acute fear of losing control of his powers. Lacking a clear understanding of the visions he experiences combined with the potency of his magick, he finds himself holding back and even purposely making mistakes to avoid letting loose and losing control.

This fear is soon replaced with intense anger, sparked by bullying, discrimination, slavery, and violence. The visions he experiences intensify this anger and loosen his control of his abilities, making him incredibly dangerous when provoked. After these intense outbursts, no matter the friends around him, he will withdraw inside himself and shut out the world. Abused by others as a child, Aeo becomes his own worst mental enemy.

Intellectual Characteristics

Aeo is a bright boy. Unfortunately, for someone who took an endless amount of direction as a slave, Aeo is stubborn in learning through experience. During his time at the Academy, Aeo spends much of his time learning how to read, discovering freedom in education. Aeo’s capacity to learn quickly is readily apparent. However, when it comes time to practice what he’s been taught, he often fails to accurately follow instruction, choosing to learn through trial and error, much to the vexation of his teachers.

Although a bit naive and not book-learned, Aeo is bright enough to know when someone is taking advantage of his friends or his good nature. As a child, Aeo would simply stop speaking to the offender and walk away. But as a young man, Aeo learns how to hold his ground and resist abuse. In fact, he’s more likely than not to lose his cool than keep it.

Morality & Philosophy

Despite his low self-esteem and shy nature growing up, Aeo is a kind soul at heart. He will do almost anything for the friends that support him, especially for Leon (whom he considers a surrogate father). But if there is a single issue that riles his temper, it’s the sight of someone powerful dominating the will of someone weak and helpless. He witnesses injustice between the Antielli and the Edians everywhere, even at Everspring Academy where both nationalities study and learn together.

As with most abused children, Aeo is fearful of speaking or acting out no matter how cruel others treat him. As a young man, however, while still hesitant to use his powers, at times he strikes terror within himself and everyone around him when he chooses to lash out at his oppressors. The urge to answer violence for violence is sometimes overwhelming, and his only balance are those who keep him company.

Social

Family Ties

Aeo initially has no idea where he comes from or who his family might be, beyond the fact that he knows he was born in the Edian capitol city of Aurion. He does learn his last name from a mysterious source after rescuing his mentor from a terrible fate.

Wealth & Financial State

Aeo himself has few worldly possessions besides his school supplies and clothing, but Leon’s seemingly endless access to finances enables Aeo to enjoy luxuries he never thought existed at the Grey Pale, including temperate weather, Ashanti liliko fruit (and its wonderful juice), ayvasilk clothing, and comfortable shoes.

While traveling or adventuring, Aeo carries a walking staff, wears a short hunting dagger at his hip, and carries a leather rucksack on his back filled with spare clothing and a few days’ worth of rations and water. He also wears an alchemist’s toolbelt filled with six vials of purified Everspring water and an Ashanti signal pellet. If traveling in Antiell in particular, he also carries his Academy apprenticeship badge as proof of his residency (as well as proving that he is a free Edian).

————————————————————————-

I’ve been working hard on getting my story ideas out of my head, as well as ‘working’ to play some new games that I think anybody would be excited to try. That being said, sorry for another fiction info dump from World Anvil. I would like to space these out a bit more, especially considering how large some of these subjects can be. Maybe I’ll focus on details that aren’t as enormous as main characters and nations, like artifacts or history. Aw, who am I kidding, it’s all enormous.

This is why I consider it such a challenge to write fiction. I don’t start simple. But, then again, I like the blogging format for portions of short stories, all based in the same universe and story. So I’ll just keep chugging along until someone tells me to stop.

Anyway, an additional note: you’ll likely find more art on my World Anvil pages because I don’t want to get in trouble with artists here at my blog. I still don’t understand how sites like Pinterest and Tumblr don’t get sued by artists when art gets posted without their permission. I’ll say it again; if I ever post someone else’s work, I’ll do my best to source it, even I source it to Pinterest or Deviantart. More than likely, my fiction posts will have fewer images.

Voices of the Shattered Sun – Alyssum Igneus

Before the story starts, here are two words you should know:

  • Psykin: a psychic person who can read minds and influence the world through thought.
  • Tessencia: an “unobtainium” element found only in special natural places.

Have fun!

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Alyssum Igneus

A Rare Alchemical Flower from Falas

“Master Leon Sirelu!” exclaimed the white-haired Ashanti man in the doorway before offering a strong handshake and an embrace. Dressed in traditional white-and-green Academy robes, Master Kane DolShir never seemed to change. His accent was as thick as it had ever been. “I am so glad you were able to return safe and sound! And with new and strange alchemical discoveries, I’m sure! How was your sabbatical, my friend?”

Leon grinned, looking back from his parlor into his personal quarters. A timid pair of red eyes watched the conversation from the comfort of a makeshift hammock deep within the room.

“It was… enlightening,” Leon said, keeping his voice low. “Pardon, Master Kane, but young Aeo is trying to sleep in the next room. Come, I’ve something to show you.”

“Oh dear, excuse my excitement,” said Kane with a nervous cough. “I’ll have to meet the boy tomorrow, yes. Of course, after you.”

Leon guided Kane beyond the parlor into his workshop. Along the far wall, several concoctions inside copper alembics bubbled quietly, surrounded by leather-bound alchemical texts and personal hand-written notes. Leon paused only to lift his hand to light the light fixture that hung just above the center of the room. With a flick of his wrist, the candle within the spherical fixture popped into life, illuminating the room. The small workshop was certainly nothing compared to the larger facilities in the basements of the Everspring Academy, but they served Leon’s purposes well enough, not in the least way giving him the ability to work in private.

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Leon’s Workshop – (source: Pinterest)

“Here, Master Kane, if you would,” Leon said, taking a loose page of parchment from inside his personal journal and offering it to the Ashanti. “Anything strike you as odd with this formula?”

Wordless, Kane took the page and read Leon’s handwriting under the light — although a master scribe himself, Kane had never judged Leon on his penmanship in their long friendship. After a few moments, Kane stroked his chin.

“Small amounts of sulphur and mercury, high concentrations of tessencia… In a single ingredient?”

Leon pursed his lips.

“This flower was… rumored to have killed a woman in San’Drael about a year and a half ago. I tracked down the flower’s source and spent most of my time away trying to figure out how. I had to tincturize it in 170-proof ethanol to extract and dissolve the ingredients completely, although I believe I can get away with a lower proof with further study. I call it alyssum igneus. I’ll narrow it down soon to preserve the other samples. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a flower with higher concentrations of tessencia per ounce before, even from flowers that grow near the Everspring.”

“You haven’t tested this ingredient on yourself, have you?” asked Kane with a frown, handing back the journal page. “How much of this flower killed the woman?”

“I don’t know,” Leon said. “Evidently, not much. I’ve only ingested small doses, to test its effects. It gave me a terrible stomach ache, but not much more.”

“You may want to visit the Medical Ward for any imbalances, nom’fre,” said Kane, emphasizing the expression reserved for foolish little boys. “Dare I ask if you’ve discovered a beneficial purpose for this ingredient?”

“Yes,” Leon said. “Although I don’t think you would believe me if I told you my testing procedure. Suffice it to say, I believe the high concentrations of tessencia when combined with an effective booster such as beraceas or curcumin could provide a user with the ability to prevent the mental intrusion and the damaging effects of hostile psykin.”

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Kane DolShir – (source: Pinterest)

With the word “psykin”, Kane’s countenance fell. Leon noticed immediately and held his hands to make Kane pause.

“Now, I don’t yet have demonstrable proof that alyssum igneus functions in this way, but given time and opportunity to study its effects, I think that-”

With a whisper, Kane stopped Leon in his tracks.

“This… flower you study. It is ‘firebrand’, isn’t it? Leon, please, tell me this isn’t about your father.”

Leon gritted his teeth for a moment and wiped his mouth with his hand.

“It is,” he whispered back.

Kane looked away.

“All this time you’ve been gone,” he said. “This is still your purpose. You would murder to see your father again?”

“Murder…?” Leon asked, spitting on the word. “Kane, everyone in my life has told me for years that my father is either dead or beyond my reach. I have proven both of these as untrue. I plan to kill no one. I only require the tools to protect myself while I rescue him. ‘Firebrand’ isn’t just a poison. It’s so much more than that.”

“And the boy?” Kane asked. “Is he a part of this? Is he psykin?”

“No, he isn’t. But he has… potential. Magickal potential. His flames burned down the entirety of Olvaren, Kane. If he has this much power as a child, think of what he’ll be able to do with age and discipline.”

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Leon Sirelu – (source: Pinterest)

“I had heard as much,” Kane said, his voice low. “And a slave on top of this. But had I known you were looking for an apprentice, I would have helped you choose one a bit less… volatile.”

“Volatility is what they’ll least expect,” Leon said. “Volatility might be the key to setting my father free.”

“You expect this boy to be able to do what you cannot?”

Leon frowned.

“I’m no warrior,” Leon said. “You know this. I am doing what I can. No one will help me. No one even told me the truth of things until it was too late. So I will train my help. The boy deserved a better future than scrubbing the floors of some no-name tavern in the middle of nowhere. I can give him a brighter future.”

“You will give him a life fraught with peril,” said Kane. “You know this as much as I. That is what our “gifts” give us in return.”

Kane placed his hands on Leon’s shoulders.

“You depart for two years, you work against the will of the High Masters by investigating a flower that could kill them, you adopt a young Edian slave boy, and you pledge to rebuild an entire village. Quite an agenda, and all on your father’s inheritance. Have you even spoken to your mother yet?”

Leon shrugged Kane’s hands off and lifted a finger to Kane’s face.

“Don’t bring my mother into this. I didn’t come looking for a lecture,” he said. “As I said, I cannot do this alone. I need your help.”

“Yes, you do,” Kane said with a sigh. “You have told no one else about the potential effects of this… alyssum?”

“No.”

“Good. Continue to say nothing. The High Masters would no doubt put an end to your experimentation…and even dismiss you from the Academy. But… If you have indeed found the solution to finding your father, then I suppose I have no choice but to assist you.”

“Thank you, Kane,” Leon said, placing a hand on the Ashanti’s shoulder. “I’ll have Aeo make a copy of my notes to send to your office. The sooner we can safely test the effects and side effects of alyssum, the sooner we can find him.”

“And how, pray tell, do you intend to test alyssum’s properties?”

“I suppose we’ll need to find a willing psykin,” Leon said. “One with considerable strength and the ability to keep a secret.”

“Of course,” Kane said, rubbing his temples with his fingertips. He chuckled. “It is times like these, Leon Sirelu, that tests the integrity of our friendship.”

“Solid as stone, I hope.”

“Something like that.”

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Everspring Academy – (source: Alejandro Olmedo)

Properties

Physical Characteristics

Alyssum igneus (or Fiery Madwort) is a flowering plant native to the deep caverns of the Falas Mountains. It grows in clumps of small shrubs with stalks reaching 10–100 cm tall with oblong-oval leaves. Alyssum igneus flowers are characteristically small and grouped in terminal clusters; they are often red or pink, although at times they can also colored orange or purple. Alyssum igneus can be found growing where natural springs run deep and warm, making them rare anywhere near the surface.

Properties

When ingested, alyssum igneus flowers cause mild gastrointestinal discomfort and headache. Even when concentrated, these effects are minor to the normal person. To psykin, however, ingestion of even unconcentrated doses of alyssum igneus (i.e. the stem, flowers, or leaves) can cause damage up to and including temporary or permanent loss of mental acuity, brain atrophy, internal hemorrhaging, stroke, or death depending on the dosage and duration.

When brewed correctly and consumed by a non-psykin, however, an alyssum igneus tincture has the ability to block the user’s mind from mental intrusion and damage by nearly all beings with psychic abilities, including giant Falas wolves and humil, Ashanti, and Eshain psykin. The effect lasts for several hours depending on the dosage imbibed, although the negative side effects mentioned above can happen to a normal person if overdose occurs.

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Alyssum Tincture – (source: Pinterest)

Only by combining alyssum igneus with other ingredients can these benefits be obtained. Beneficial concentrated tinctures also require much greater quantities of alyssum igneus flowers than their lethal counterparts, not to mention a mastery of the alchemical arts to produce the desired effects.

Interestingly, only the flower petals of the alyssum igneus plant share the beneficial qualities, whereas the whole plant can be processed to produce the negative. Regardless, no matter its form or combination, psykin should avoid alyssum igneus at all cost lest they lose their abilities (temporarily or permanently) or their lives.

History & Usage

History

Originally discovered by merchants traveling to Edia through the Falas Mountains roads, the rare red flowers were sold as mysterious alchemical reagents and even decorative gifts (although they couldn’t grow without very specific conditions). When an Antielli mage and psykin died from unknown causes (which was, in fact, a purposeful alyssum poisoning) in San’Drael in 216 A.R., the alchemist Leon Sirelu overheard details specifying the existence of the flower and decided to investigate its source. This led him to his exploration of Falas and his discovery of alyssum igneus.

Once only thought of as a rare but effective poison to psykin, Sirelu’s discovery of alyssum as a psychic deterrent threatened to shake the power structure of an entire nation. Before its classification by Sirelu, alyssum igneus was known by several titles, including “firebrand”, “brain-burner”, and “the dumbing flower”.

Antiell

Rough map of the Antielli Continent

Trade & Market

Finding alyssum igneus on sale in the market stalls of San’Drael is highly unlikely. If it does, guards are unlikely to spot and confiscate the unassuming flower immediately. Even most Psykin apprentices wouldn’t recognize it by sight. If an experiences psykin recognizes it, however, expect swift confiscation of the offending flora and an intense interrogation as to the flower’s source.

More often than not, alyssum igneus can be found in black markets across the continent. Even then, it is tightly controlled, especially in Antielli territory. Since buyers often seek out the flower for dark political purposes, it behooves the vendor to sell alyssum only to those they trust. Typical transactions of alyssum igneus don’t involve much more than a few flower petals, a stem, or a couple leaves. As even milligram doses can kill a psykin man or woman, trading entire bunches (or even possessing entire bunches) is unheard of.

Law & Regulation

d7b44b310bc2c4983fe9388f1dfc9c88To the public, alyssum igneus is a simple but rare decorative flower. To those who know better (namely, those in the business of assassination) recognize the red flower as the perfect tool for eliminating otherwise powerful and ever-observant psykin. To psykin heads of state, guildmasters, and academy headmasters, alyssum was an unavoidable silent killer — unless you were unscrupulous and wealthy enough to hire a psykin taste tester for all your meals, beverages, and spirits. While the source of the flower has been known for some time, it was never discovered in large enough quantities to enable additional study. The Falas wolves, mephandras, and other predators ensured no one had the opportunity to carefully explore the mountain. Even after the disappearance of the Falas wolves and its discovery as a defense to psykin intrusion by Sirelu, the flower remained a rare resource because of information and quantity control.

________________________________________________

How can a flower change the course of history? That’s what I want to find out as I write Alyssum and the Voices of the Shattered Sun series. Ha, series. More like a very rough outline and a few chapters that no longer follow my headcanon. Funny how developing a story beyond its inception tends to do that.

So there are a lot of words in this that I’ve made up. Note to self: pull back on the new vocabulary throttle when writing the story. Then again, it’s like I’m writing the Silmarillion and the Hobbit at the same time. A lot of this might not make sense yet considering it takes place after Aeo and Leon get off the mountain. But it won’t make sense until much later as Aeo learns about himself and his world along with the reader.