1-7b: The Haunted Shore

My grandfather always told me to beware the fog.  Superstitious I would call him.  I’d ask why our lake would be haunted.  All he would ever say, it’s not our lake, and never was.  The ghosts were here before, and they would be after, lest I joined their number.

All stories, and foolishness.  The fog was a terrible beast to be sure.  One could get lost half a day out there, but there was nothing to sink a boat.  Nothing more than the fish I wanted to catch beneath the waters.  So fog or not, I strode down to the lake shore, I tipped down our old boat where it was leaned, and pushed it to the waters edge.

I shoved off, pulling my foot clear before it could sink into the mud.  I’d done it a hundred times before, rarely got my foot wet any more.  Almost as soon as I left the shore it vanished.  I rolled my shoulders, and steadied myself.  Just stories, just stupid stories of an old cranky man.

I set the oars, and gave a few pulls away from a shore I could no longer see, before bringing them up to rest.  I baited an old hook with a worm, and cast it into the lake, closed my eyes, and dreamed of my betrothed who lived three miles down the shore.  I’d take her my catch, and share, and my cranky old father could eat dry bread.

That was the dream any way.  Its hard to judge time alone on the water, with nothing to keep you company but fancies of the one you love, the creak of an old boat adrift, and the fog.  No sun in the sky, a wind so gentle it was hard to guess the direction.  It was as bleak and dreary a day on the lake as I could recall.

I saw the old dead ash a mile down the shore peak its gangly branches through the fog for barely a moment.  I thought perhaps my luck was improving, and the fog would lift, but those knotted limbs vanished again as quickly as they appeared.  There was a dock near the tree, and having caught nothing I considered it might be a better place to fish from, rather than keep drifting towards the river that lead out of Avrale to the south east.

I pulled up my line, and brought down my oars.  I turned the boat around, and towards shore.  The more I thought about it, the more it didn’t seem likely I had drifted so far south.  Even if it had been an hour of daydreaming with no catch, I shouldn’t have been half way to the ash by then.

I checked over my shoulder several times, but neither the ash, nor shore appeared.  I kept rowing, and still nothing.  The boat was coasting along, and if I dipped the oars in the water I could gage the speed.  Not that the old boat could go far without a constant pull.  I brought up the oars, stood carefully, and looked towards where shore should be.  I tried very hard to make out anything, but there was nothing.

I wondered if I’d miss judged my turn, but I doubted it.  Hundreds of times before I’d turned that boat around.  I knew how to do it blind.  I scratched my head, sat down, and stared at white nothingness.  It wasn’t nothingness though.  As still as the air was the fog seemed to roll, and shift, rise and fall.  It was like something breathing, sleeping, about to wake.

I shook the idea from my head.  It was just fog.

Giving up on the idea of reaching shore, I set back to fishing.  The fog would clear, eventually, and then it would be an easy mater to row towards, or away from some landmark.  There was nowhere on the lake  that shore was out of sight once the fog cleared.  Only a mile or two across at the widest, and there were islands amidst that widest part, and miles north.  I was drifting south.

At the worst I would find myself at Helmsmoth, where the lake narrowed, and became a slow flowing river down into the forests of or eastern neighbor.  It would be a nuisance to row back home, take a few hours, but that was the worst, and unlikely to say the least.  I’d never drifted farther than half way there in a day.

I mulled that all over, and tossed my line back in the water.  After all, if I started rowing again without knowing which way I faced, I could very well take myself all the way down to the river.  I shook my head, and closed my eyes, and dreamed of my lovely Annae.  I imagined an afternoon we’d spent beneath old Caster’s beech tree, kissing, and daydreaming of our wedding day.  Falling asleep with my head on her shoulder.

I couldn’t say how long I drifted off from that thought, perhaps a moment before tipping over, and hitting my head hard on the side of the boat.  I was seeing stars, and rubbing the spot I’d hit when I almost missed my fishing rod jerk, and barely caught hold of it before it could be pulled over.

It was the feistiest fish I think I ever caught, or I was just dazed.  When I finally pulled the whopper up I wasn’t surprised it had fought so hard.  A good foot long trout flailed and thrashed from the end of my line, but before I could get the fish into the boat I nearly jumped out of it myself.

For a moment she was beautiful, stepping from the fog, the water rippling around her feet.  She was naked, thin threads of fog leaving some vestige of modesty.  She was striding towards me, but I was clearly drifting rather fast towards her.

“Watch out!” I called, as it looked like my boat was going to hit her.  A bit foolish maybe, to be telling someone walking on water towards you to watch out.  I’d seen magic before, plenty of times, there was even an old shaman who lived on an island up north who had chased me off once with a tornado.  All of that kind of vanished from my mind as I collided with the woman, and nothing but fog rolled over me.

I looked around, rubbed my eyes, and realized I’d lost my fish and pole.  I turned full around and there she was, though she no longer looked young.  Her skin was wrinkled, and hung from her bones.  She turned back at me with a haggard old face, and glared with a singular hate before vanishing into the fog again.

I grabbed the oars, and started rowing.  I didn’t care where I wound up, but not there, anywhere but there was all I could think.  I hadn’t seen what I had seen.  I hadn’t hit something that wasn’t there.  None of this stopped my rowing.  No reason, or sense slowed me for a moment.

I kept glancing over my shoulder as I rowed, watching for shore, for anything.  Nothing, more nothing, just an endless expanse of white nothing.  Then something, emerging fast out of the fog, a human form, her.  I dug my oar into the water, and turned hard.  She glowered at me as I avoided her with my turn, standing there leaned towards me.  I dug my oars in again and rowed harder than before.

I didn’t check behind me a good minute after she vanished into the fog again.  When I did, still nothing, and then suddenly the boat lurched violently, and the scraping sound of small rocks made me wince.  I’d hit shore, though what shore I couldn’t guess, or see.  Looking behind me was still just a pale gray world of fog.

I brought up the oars, and moved to the front of the boat.  I could see the pebbles immediately below the bow, but not more than a foot inland from that.  I jumped out, and pulled the boat up well onto shore, and tried to convince myself all of that had just happened.  I flopped back, and tried to catch my breath, I had been rowing far to hard.  I’d been seeing things, that had to be it.

There was a scraping sound suddenly, and I bolted up right.  The boat was sliding back into the water.  I jumped up, and tried to grab it, but it was gone.  There was no way it had just slid back into the water on its own.  No way, I had pulled it fully up onto shore.  I backed away from the water, and the quickly vanishing boat.  My heart was racing cold, sweat dripping down my brow.

I turned, and looked around, but there was nothing.  I could barely see the pebbles beneath my feet.  There was nothing, nothing anywhere.  I panicked, and ran, that was foolish.  I didn’t know where I was running, which way, where I was, but I ran any way.  I felt the ground change to grass beneath my feet, and slowed.  The shore was mostly clear around the whole lake, but once you were into the grass there were rabbit burrows, old logs, and other hazards.

I looked around again,  a futile endeavor, everything looked the same.  Everything was the same nothing, featureless gray.  Everything but a dark spot, a tall wobbling dark spot that moved towards me.  It shifted from a shapeless blob to the younger form of the woman.  Her stare was cold, heartless, her eyes nothing but black, her skin seemed ashen, lacking color.

I stood there frozen, unable to think what to do.  Running hadn’t worked, and running was no longer really an option.  At best I would just run back to the shore, and she could walk on water.  What ever she was.

“What do you want?” I demanded.

There was no answer, just a slow plodding step of bare feet through the grass towards me.  She stepped up close, and the colorlessness of her skin became all the more daunting.  Her skin was almost white, with something darker underneath.  She loomed over me, seeming to grow taller.  I wanted to run, but I couldn’t move.

“What do you want?” I demanded again as she seemed to breath cold fog down upon me.

There was a whisper on the wind, a voice but not words.  They were harsh, and sharp, hissing, and spiteful.  It was a voice, but not words, not words I knew at any rate.  Forgotten words I guess, words of something that had been there long before me, that would be long after.  Words that were not for mortals to know, but for us to fear.

Sense, or insanity finally took me.  I spun on my heel, and dashed headless into the blank expanse.  I tripped over something, what I don’t know, I didn’t see it before, or after.  I tumbled, and fell, and felt water splash over my hand, then my face.  I struggled upright, and coughed out a mouth full of water.

I looked around, as useless as it had ever been.  Nothing, but I knew I hadn’t gotten away.  Everywhere I went, there she was.  I felt the water rise around my arm, and scrambled away from it.  There were forms in the mist, a dozen, more.  Whispers and swishes like whipping wind.  The forms were closing in, but even as they started to take shape they fell away, just the impression of a face, and then they were gone.

I jumped up, and ran through a break in the figures approaching me, but more kept appearing as I ran along the shore.  Their faces were agonized, weeping, melting into nothing.  I felt fingers, or hands try to grab my arms, fingers slick, and slippery they fell away.  The voice in the air seemed pleading, like wails begging for something.  There were cries, terrible cries that stabbed at the soul like death.  They were the unmistakable sounds of those dying horribly.

I stumbled over a log wedged in the pebbled shore, and failed to quite catch myself, the arm I’d thrown out skipping off wet stones, and my face meeting them.  There was a flare of pain, and I quickly brought my hand to my face feeling the blood running form my nose.  I pulled my feet under me, and began to weep like a child, holding my bleeding nose.  The cries of death had stopped, but there was still an ill, unintelligible sound on the wind.

I felt water wash up around my legs, and looked down as water rose up to my waist.  I tried to get up, to jump up, and move out of the rising water, but my feet were swept out from under me.  I caught myself better that time as I fell, but it was all for naught as I felt myself pulled out into the lake like I was caught in a riptide.

I barely had time to grab a deep breath as I was pulled under the swirling water, down into inky blackness, down, down, sinking faster than a stone.  I flailed, and struggled against the current, but as the light began to fade I could tell I was spinning, and tumbling.  I didn’t know if I was swimming up, or down, which way the world went.

All I could see was blackness, all I could hear was a roar of something monstrous, all I could feel was wild eddies of freezing cold water that felt like they could cut my skin.  Then suddenly there was light.  I struggled towards the light, I swam harder than I have ever swam, as my breath was about to give out, as my lungs burned with an agony that demanded I exhale, but there would be no air, no air if I did, only water.

The light grew brighter, and dimmer, and the current swirled around me maddeningly, making it hard to swim in the same direction.  Then suddenly I felt the water rush up past me, the light grew, and I gasped for air as I broke the surface, and still I was tumbling.  I was tumbling through the air, lost in a void of absolute nothing.  No water, no ground, no sky, nothing but a perfect unbroken  expanse of the same featureless gray.

I’m sure it lasted but a moment, but it felt a life time, and then I felt the fall begin, I saw the dark water for barely a fleeting moment, just long enough to inhale once more before it crashed painfully across me, like being slapped with the force of a horse’s kick.  It forced some of that precious air from my lungs as I trashed trying to upright myself again.  The current still was trying to drag me down, but I got upright, I got to the surface, and tread water fiercely to stay afloat.

I panted, and gasped, and looked around frantically.  I could see a few feet of water around me, the outline of an uneven stretch of the cursed fog.  There were figures again walking towards me, footsteps disturbing the surface of the water, but never reaching me.  Then a pair of legs emerged from the fog, crisp, clear, but wrinkled and old.  I did not look up, I was too terrified to look up.  The ankle bent, and a knee set before my face.  Hands gripped my cheeks, and forced me to look up.

Her eyes were darker than before, hollow voids that opened onto the abyss itself.  Her lips parted, and a hissed word reached my ears.  I could not repeat it.  It is not a word I could speak, that I have heard before, or will hear again.  It was not a word I knew, but it was a word I understood only one possible meaning for.  “Die.”

I gasped for air as I felt the current grab me again, I slipped helplessly beneath the waves despite every struggle.  The light was vanishing quickly, darkness intruded, the cold had made me numb.  It was over, I knew it was, it was the end.  I’m sure I was crying, my tears joining the icy waters that had claimed me.  My heart broke to think of my Annae, when she heard of my death, or when I was never found.

I felt something grab my wrist.  I fought, and struggled against it.  Futile as all other attempts had been I struggled, I would not give in to that dark oblivion.  I turned to face what ever had grabbed me.  A form barely a shadow of greater dark against the depths, a from set against the last glimmer of light from above.  A form pulling me towards that light.

In a panicked moment I realized I was struggling down.  I kicked then, kicked with all my might, and stopped fighting the hand pulling me towards the light.  My lungs betrayed me though far before the surface.  The air escaped, and water tried to rush in.  The light came closer, but darkness clouded my vision.  I kicked with the last of my strength, and then nothing.

That should have been it.  That should have been my end.  What happened next, so far as I know was my eyes snapping open, me rolling over, and coughing water from my lungs, and then throwing up what little breakfast I had eaten.  I looked up, and saw the faint outline of a house shroud in the fog.  I looked behind me, and saw a figure standing with their back to me.

It wasn’t the woman, not her old form, or her young, but the hair was long.  He turned, and glanced at me, and gave me what I could not call a smile.  He took one step towards the lake shore, and was gone.  I lay there, just beyond the densest part of the fog.  I lay there, and collapsed back, staring up at the faintest hint of sky, struggling to regain my breath.  Still occasionally coughing up more water.

I heard footsteps, and tried to get up, and turn towards them.  I doubt I did much more than flop like a beached fish.  I tremblingly pushed myself up, ready for the next assault, particularly as I heard the footsteps hasten.  I could barely raise my head, but hands, warm, gentle delicate hands helped me.  They lifted my head, and for the first time I realized she was calling my name.  My ears deafened from being full of water that was finally escaping.

“James, James, James, are you alright?” I grabbed her arms, and pulled my Annae to me with all the strength I could muster.  I clung to her like life.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

“That is your story?” the King asked.

I wiped away my tears.

“Yes, my King,” I answered.

“Seven people died that day,” he said sadly.  “Seven people to the long list of legends of loss from that cursed lake.  My advisors wish me to write it off as foolish people who got lost, fell in, drowned when they could not find their way out of the fog.  Seven people, in one day.  Who would you believe?”

“Your advisors, I am sure are wise, clever men who know a great deal more of the world than me,” I answered.  “Yet I will tell you; seven people would not die on that lake by accident.  All my life I have lived there, and even in the densest fog, it is safe.  Yet something lurks, something kills there.  Something dark, and evil makes it not safe on days like that one.”

The King stood up, marched down his dais, and knelt before me where I was on my knees, he grabbed my chin, and made me look up at him.  His eyes were fierce things, the eyes of a mage in his thirteenth decade.

“When I was a boy,” the King said, “when I was not half your age, a man came before my father, just as you have.  He told a story much as your own.  My father did not believe him.  My father sent him to work for the barons of South Rook as an indentured servant for a year, as punishment for wasting his time.”

“What will you do?” I asked nervously.

“What would you have me do?”

“The river that feeds the lake in the north splits down another channel to the west, into the Sylvan wood.  Divert the river, and the lake will drain in time,” I answered.

“And do you think that will be enough to dissuade what haunts those waters?  That it will be worth the cost.  No more fish certainly.”

“What is a few fish, compared to seven lives, and almost eight?”

The King nodded.  “Go home to your bride young man, and I will consider your tale.”

– Court Records of King Mathias of Avrale, 129 B.E.

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1-21b: The Dragon – 2005

A few things I must preface with:

This is not a part of O&E.  So far from cannon it’s laughable, and yet deeply relevant to the world that came to pass.  This occurs in a hevily polished idea of a MMO world I once took part in through my late teens and early twenties.  That said this is best read after finishing the first book of The Storm Cycle.

I cannot say when this was written exactly.  The file claims it was created early in 2005.  This means it is likely a rewrite/edit in the wake of late 2003 first drafts of what would now be Book III’s opening.  The original may be forever lost.  Regardless, dates or drafts aside this is how it all began.  With a girl, a dragon, and a plan so crazy it just might work.

I have done some very minor editing, but this will show some evolution of my writing over the years since it was written nearly 13 years ago.


I shall tell you now a tale from when I was a young wizardess, seeking adventure and fame amidst the lands of the first world.  I have always been a proponent of seeking advantage in a fight, for there are only two kinds of fight in this world, the ones that you must win, or escape, and the ones that could have been avoided but for pride, ego, or a simple lack of skill.  My mentor oft joked that perhaps I missed my true calling in life as a rogue, regardless this was a fight of ego, to which I am no more immune than any.

Now I mention this for it is at the heart of my tale, in every age there has always been one great and defining legendary deed.  The slaying of a great and powerful dragon without assistance.  I was young, impetuous, and determined to do what was claimed by any sane minded person impossible, to slay a dragon with nothing but wit, magic, and potions if need be, at a point in my training where even a fine magical robe could not save me from one slight nip by the fierce breed I had set my sights upon slaying.

I studied long and hard, every text, every tome on dragons which I could find.  I traveled with many brave bands of adventurers seeking the glory of a group kill of the mighty beasts, some tales of which I might tell another time.  All of it came to not, there was no protection great enough but one’s own training, strength, or the fine armor of a warrior to save one from the might of an angered red dragon.

It had been a late night reading on the steps of the great central bank, with foreigners about speaking in broken common of the age, and their own native tongues.  My dear sister K’ia herself had slipped into a slumber amidst her night’s practice in the art of alchemy, and dear sweet K’it had long since sauntered off with some other young woman to discuss the finer points of the less applied uses of healing magics.  I was feeling disheartened, I was a daft fool but by no means suicidal. I was not going into a fight I knew I could not win.

As I plucked a freshly corked bottle of some potion from beside my sister’s sleeping form, I gazed at the blue green liquid within and turned it contemplatively.  It was labeled invisibility, and for a moment I simply stared through it at the moon, bits and pieces of thought slowly congealing into a mad plan, something no one had ever been so daft as to try, and I knew in a heart beat I must do it.

I quickly realized that while I might worm a few potions out of my dear sister without suspicion, to get as many as I needed I would have to turn else where, for I knew she would not approve.  I believe it was a colleague of hers, well practiced and recently mastered in his arts of alchemy that provided a generous quantity of the potions, and for a few coins extra asked no questions, and told no tales.

My supplies gathered my plan was all but complete, but ambitious as my primary undertaking was, a single great beast is perhaps less dangerous than the darkness that may lurk about their lair.  In those days the most reliable place to find dragons was deep within winding dank passages found to the east, infested with undead horrors and wild elementals.  What gave rise to the twisted pit of hell known to some as the bone dungeon was a mystery, no doubt it had once been a dark shrine of ill worship and blackest magery, but it’s masters were long since walking dead, if not simply dust.

After their passing though, and this was more well documented, the main hall of the deepest levels – which opened through caves inaccessible to man in high mountains above – became nest to a red dragon and her children.  To reach the main hall was no small feet but it had been done many a times, and many of her eldest children had fallen to groups of brave adventurers in the past.  Yet there seemed no end to the progeny of the red dragon, so gathering by my side two fellow wizardesses, and a young rogue, who thought me daft, but  was more than ready to amuse them self with my demise, I set forth to brave the forsaken depths.

We had reached the anti-chamber of that great hall that had been nicknamed the red dragon pit, and it was now that I set my plans into action.  Knowing that nothing would protect me from one mistake I striped bare.  It seemed a logical thing to do, if armor interferes with magic, then surely to be completely naked would only strengthen my magic.  The rogue was most amused, and his stares a bit to appreciative for my taste, I considered frying him then and there, but I still needed him for my plan.

The idea was simple enough, the rogue would run in, nab some treasure, his payment for his services, and the dragon who’s attention was caught would be distracted by me, allowing him to slip away and count his cheaply gotten gold.  That part went without a hitch, the rogue slipping into the shadows as I paralyzed then afflicted the dragon with a poison spell, and chugged the ready potion of invisibility, and sank to the floor next to my bag of potions and regents, careful not to jostle the bottles for fear of making a sound.

While dragons are intelligent you see, they are not geniuses, and most red dragons, it is my opinion, at their best barely give dogs a run for their money.  A dragon’s greatest weakness is its temper, they are all as fiery in spirit as they are in breath, and red are by far the worst when it comes to this.  To have been paralyzed, and then stung so impertently angered the beast beyond words, and it bellowed and belched small puffs of smoke.  My plan had worked, the beast was too enraged to focus clearly, its enemy had simply disappeared, had I drawn the mother of the brood I wondered if I would have been so lucky.

Little damage as I had done it worked, time and again having rested to pool my magical energies I would paralyze then strike the beast, little by little weakening it.  I could see the great beast begin to stager after nearly an hour of this trickery, once blinded by rage it was now badly staggering.  Little did I know as I crouched, invisible and slick with sweat from my efforts, fearful that my fragrance would overpower the smell of sulfur in the air and give the stupid beast a clue, that my normal companions were no longer the only ones watching my fool stunt.

For another party of adventurers had come to seek fame for them selves, and having stumbled upon my friends joined them in quiet observation.  In their number was a cleric, who’s name escapes me now, perhaps began with T, and far be it from me to speak ill of the dead, but I do still question if he truly sought a better view of the fight, or my unclad body.

Regardless it all went quite awry, the dragon, though half dead heard the cleric’s footsteps and caught sight of him.   Realizing his mistake he fled, and I, not yet composed for my next strike could do nothing to save him as the dragon crashed through the old weak wall and made short work of the poor man.  Though revenge was taken upon the beast in due course, it was not to be by me alone for my stocks had run too short, and my body too weary to start from scratch, for the beast had replenished it’s health from the cleric’s own life.

By the time all parties could regroup, word it seemed had spread amongst the red dragons, and such trickery never worked again, for even they can learn a lesson aptly now and then.  To you though I offer these lessons, the best laid plans of mortals and wizards may be set asunder by one fool, and no mater how attractive, a better view of a naked woman is not worth your life.

– a tale of K’at, Mage of Entropy

Elementals, Wisps, & Half-flesh

One of the least understood phenomena in the world of Thaea are Elementals.  They are rare to begin with, and generally exist in inaccessible places such as the far northern wastes.  With few exception they do not appear near civilized areas of the world, which is extremely fortunate.

Elementals are temperamental, and exhibit erratic behavior that borders on aggressive, but seems to lack any indication of even animal intelligence, though there is clear response to stimuli.  Druids highly practiced in elemental channeling have had mixed results controlling, or at least dissuading elementals away from exploratory expeditions.  Druids claim that the forces exhibited by elementals are always present, but kept muted and in check by the presence of living things.  A not unreasonable assertion given the nature of channeling practices, but with scarce solid proof.  Even accepting this assertion what leads to, and provides the persistent energetic expression of elementals is hotly debated.

A few cores have survived the disruption of their surrounding effects or “body” of the elemental.  These near priceless objects (only seven are confirmed to exist) are agreed to be comprised of attuned filaments, but their behaviors vary.  It is also not clear whether the core represents a true source of the elemental manifestation or merely a side effect – the precipitate as it were of the effect crystalized at the center of the phenomena.  No core has ever been observed to exhibit further responsive behavior after the disruption of the rest of the elemental.  That being said cores can be used in any number of clever ways depending on their nature.

The two most well studied cores are the Wind Stone of Nohlend, and the Ice Core of ‘Norbert.’   An unfortunate name given to the original elemental, and never explained by the woman Amalia Grey, an intrepid and determined explorer who was also known for odd eccentricities.  These two stones exhibit very different fundamental behaviors.  The wind stone produces a continuous breeze in its vicinity in the direction, and intensity that light is cast on it.  The Ice Core appears superficially to merely be a massive heat sink.  Yet obeying conservation of energy the heat lost manifests in excessive filament concentrations in an area roughly fifty feet away.

The past few centuries (following the Dragon War) have offered more opportunities to study the phenomena of elementals, as to the worry of many scholars and laymen the Corinthian Scar exhibits the relatively frequent formation of elementals.  Though these seem far less powerful, and aggressive than reports of those manifested in wild lands, and wastes.

For those not familiar with the Corinthian Scar one should perhaps not be surprised.  Outside of scholarly circles, and those telling ghost stories, most like to forget its terrifying existence, and the great atrocity that created it.  Largely centered on the formal capitol of Corinthia, the Scar in its original form was a ten mile area of scorched rubble that once housed some eight hundred thousand, though at the time of those terrible events more than half the population had fled the march of the Osyrean army, and their dragon tyrants.

Over the following century the scar expanded by nearly sixty times in land area, though significantly more along the primary ley line.   This expansion was initially of terrifying concern, and caused the suburbs of the formal capital, and an even larger area beyond the scar to be utterly abandoned.  Which given the nature of elementals to appear in uninhabited places almost certainly made the problem worse.

Though the exact area of the scar is currently debated, as is any possible continued expansion – it is almost universally agreed it is no larger than sixty by twenty miles.  Some resettlement has occurred around the fringes in small outposts, and unaffiliated groupings – the later of which are highly disreputable, and of great concern to surrounding kingdoms.

Even with a known area of occurrence, and with the exception of wisps the initial formation of an elemental has never been observed.  In fact there is heated debate if wisps are even technically elementals at all, or something more obtuse.  Wisps exhibit several traits that many argue are contrary to elementals.  They are ‘timid’ retreating from approaching observers, not advancing.  The occur in forests, fields, near town and city borders, and other places elementals have almost never been reported.  They are also vastly more common, though still generally rare.  Lastly their initial formation has been observed, if at a distance.

The formation of a wisp is as best described, both odd, and less than special.  Wisps appear to form out of an abundance of ambient filaments that gradually begin to coalesce into a luminous concentration.  They generally maintain a distance of a few dozen feet from the observer, both retreating and advancing as the observer moves, though with some latency.  Beyond this they bob, weave, and swirl about.  They are almost always observed individually, but a few dozen accounts exist of two, three, or even eight.

Wisps only seem timid about humans, and larger animals.  They ignore trees, and have even been observed to pass through them.  Their luminance attracts many night insects, including fireflies, which can create the illusion to the uninformed that a number of smaller wisps are following the larger.  Wisps are almost always blue in hue, and fire flies exhibit warmer colors.

Half-flesh are an even stranger phenomena.  There are five recorded over the course of a thousand years, six or seven counting either the Avatar, or Lady of the Sands who many believe deserve each a class to themselves.  The Lady of the Sands continued existence is also in debate – as she was always reclusive.  The nomads north of Osyrae continue to vaguely worship her, and swear to her continued presence.

Half-flesh exhibit as (generally) intelligent pseudo-elemental ghosts – or possibly highly intricate spells.  None have ever been overly willing to be closely examined, and most have eventually dissipated within a century or two of their formation.  They bare traits of both elementals, and ghosts.  None have ever observed the initial formation, though some come and go like ghosts.  All were once (reportedly) living people who possessed exceptional affinities for an elemental pattern.  All manifest in vaguely to fully human form, seem to experience sensation like humans, remain fully to mostly intelligent, but are made of elementally attuned filaments, or inorganic matter.

Here is a short list:

The Stone Man Cartith:

One of the only stone shamans recorded, Cartith was a disturbingly powerful gifted warrior who first fought against, and ultimately beside Emperor Corinth in his subjugation of the age of Kings.  Cartith’s practice was incredibly detrimental to his health in ways that were not well understood.  Though he did not generally engage in direct combat he was an almost grotesquely muscular man, and his bulk was largely scar tissue created by the straining he did while wielding his might.  Cartith died in battle not from enemy action, but from his heart literally tearing itself apart beyond repair.  The following day a human form made of shaped stones was found outside of camp.  Though the Stone Man was incapable of speech he could communicate in other varied ways from gestures, to scratches in the dirt.

Cartith served the Emperor through many further campaigns before one day simply walking away.  It is generally believed that Cartith’s mind slowly faded with time.  He became a mercenary, and eventually was believed to be little more than a pet to his pay master until one day he simply stopped moving.  Other than some trivial residual filament concentration nothing special was ever found about his remains.

Laset the Dancing Wave:

Laset’s existence is well enough documented through enough lands that her existance is almost certain, but she is more myth than fact.  A woman of Tethes she lived sometime around 400 B.E.  A water channeler of immense power she preferred the art of dance to war, but came none the less always to her peoples defense in times of conflict.  This in spite of her near ostracization for her flagrant disregard for social norms around clothing, sexuality, or propriety.  She was fond of seduction of lovers of either sex, regardless of their marital status, and hardly limited herself to individuals.

She was ultimately killed by the combined efforts of several mages in an invading Osyrean army.  The following day the Osyrean occupiers were all found drowned at their posts, or in their beds.  These are the only deaths attributed -strongly- to Laset, who was hence forth again known more for her former pass times.  Though a scattering of stories say that her return to her former pastimes of dance and seduction lured unsuspecting fools to their doom these are considered false by most scholars.

As an ascended being Laset by most accounts was even less restrained than in her mortal life.  So much so that records say that after a final falling out with the elders of her former tribe she left.  Records place her wanderings through half the world there after.  The seduction of princes and farm girls, great shows she put on for the amusements of Kings and Queens.  Her defense of the innocent under cruel tyrants, and thieves.  Long lived for a Half-flesh the last known report of Laset is from central Palentine along the North Sea.  Where she is recorded to have lived roughly seven years around 130-123 B.E.

Sixteen surviving accounts refer to the “Final Wave” or the “Fairwell of the Sea” when during the high day of the summer solstice Laset put on a seven hour show in Palace Harbor during which ribbons of water were woven through the air hundreds of feet long, and high, intricately in intwined in complex dancing knots that numerous famous paintings attempt to recreate.  At the end of her performance she gave a final bow, blew a kiss to her vast audience, and joined the sea.  No credible tales are recorded after.

Soren the Unliving Cold:

No one knows precisely who Soren was before he appears in Napir folklore around 500 B.E.  Even after he became a frozen corpse that still somehow moved he was reclusive.  His touch was known to kill, or at least gravely wound.  Weapons of any sort shattered against him like glass.  By 450 B.E. several ill advised attempts to destroy him by local Lords and Ladies were well recorded.  The Storm Queen of the day put a stop to this, and faced Soren personally.

Soren made no moves against the Queen, and the Queen after a few harmless shows of power decided instead to attempt to speak with him.  He was not overly articulate at first, his dialect seemingly very old, but he was clearly intelligent when engaged at length.  He expressed no interest in violence, only bewilderment at his own existence – and a sorrow of loneliness.  He had vague memories of a lost wife, and child, and claims of cities in the sky.

When the Maji arrived in 423 B.E. Soren sought them out, and proved an adept student of magic – further he became a teacher himself, and was granted the title of Magus.  A young woman of the Maji fell madly in love with him, and by all records concocted spells to protect herself from the intense cold Soren exuded.  By all accounts she touched him by surprise, and to initial terror on his face.  Then to his further bewilderment she kissed him.  Yet unlike most half flesh records say he found that he could not feel even this.  This stripped from him his last hope in life, broke his heart, and several days later a spell fire burst several hundred feet high was observed from an open rocky area.  No one witnessed the event directly, but no credible record of Soren exists beyond this day.

Amir the Living Wind:

Amir is believed to have originally come from the lands north of Osyrae – though little more is known of his mortal life, for few tales claim he ever said.  Amir is a strange sort among the Half-flesh.  He had no tangible, or visible form, and some scholar try to write him off as a myth carried by the Maji in their travels.  Dating however of many tales, all reporting the same name Amir, occur centuries before the track of the Maji reached many lands.  Further while Amir is recorded in the oral histories of northern Osyrae, he does not appear in any early Maji writings, nor in any oral traditions of central Osyrae where the Maji originated.

Beyond this it is all but impossible to sort fact from fiction.  Amir is recorded as benevolent, mischievous, clever, tender, and lustful.  He is credited with saving people from terrible falls, and blowing about women’s clothes to their embarrassment.  Stories have him playing spy against invading armies, leaving warnings written in the dirt of coming attacks, and intervening in critical battles.  There are stories of the song on the wind, and numerous women who claimed to have a ghostly lover that came on the breeze.

Given the truly abstract nature of the tales around Amir it is no more clear when he stopped existing than when he started.  Tall tales continue into the modern age, but their frequency dropped off some time around 350 E.R.

Geneve the Rapture of Light:

Geneve’s origin is somewhat well recorded.  A witch of the wastes north of the modern area claimed by the Clarion Ascension she was already an outcast of sorts, but her skills were far too prized for the local tribes to stay away from her for long.  By all accounts of her works, and unlike many historically recorded ‘witches,’ Geneve was more accurately an enchanter.  As all witches her practice predated the path of the Maji, living some time around 750 B.E.

In life what Geneve was known more for than her spell bound wares, was her absolute distaste for men.  Being a witch already marked her an outsider from any tribe, her intolerance for the presence of men more so, and lastly her well recorded affinity for women further.  In addition to her enchantments, Geneve was known as an illusionist.  Though she made her home in open land, near a lake that could be seen from half a mile away people would get lost trying to walk straight towards it.

Only a lone woman could pass her illusions, and reach her home.  There they would be offered tea, sometimes a meal, and barter for her wares.  Few claimed to have given in to her seductions, but few denied that they were made.  After all, if the known lustful woman did not try, it would be an affront to one’s beauty.

Some would not return for days.  Often offering excuses that they could not easily return through the same illusions that lead people astray approaching.  This was a very necessary claim for fear of being shunned, though most considered the seductions of Geneve witchcraft of the highest order.

It varied under the leaders of the surrounding tribes if only virgin girls were sent in an attempt to sway her, or only widows to not sully the honor of some poor girl.  All together the stories remained on average the same.

One day, in tales dated to circa 610 B.E. a young boy was dared to challenge the illusionary maze by his friends.  He walked straight through.  There in her bed was found an old woman, dead in likelihood of natural causes, and age.  Though Geneve appeared in the tales of her life to always be young.

Over the following centuries begin the tales of the Rapture of Light.  A seductive glowing woman who lured young women into the night, and whispered lustful thoughts in their ears.  That her caress was warmth itself, and her voice a song that felt like bells of light ringing in the ear.

Were it not for records of the Magus Garlen, a respected member of the Maji troop that arrived in those lands in 223 B.E. Geneve might be written off as nothing more than a legend.  Yet her two recorded works (one poetic, one scholarly,) each banned in devoutly Clarion lands are detailed, and often frank accounts of her long dealings with Geneve.  What the troublesome spirit asked for her knowledge, and good humor, and also the powers observed.

There are further accounts by other Maji who observed her interactions with the glowing spirit, and also records of other young female Maji who interacted favorably, or otherwise with her.

The Lady of the Sands:

There are well documented encounters with the protector of the northern wastes all the way up to 150 E.R. and countless myths surrounding her.  If she ever speaks is a mater for debate, but the most well recorded events were battles, all of which were lost by the side that faced her.

More is known about her powers than either her origins, or her personality.  She commands both wind, and sand in raw physical form.  She assumes the shape of a woman, sometimes seemingly naked, or draped in flowing gowns – though it can be hard to tell either apart as her feet rarely fully form, instead tapering into the sand bellow.  She is far from limited to either human scale, or form.  She can call up great waves of sand, from hands large enough to grab hold of a dunewalker, and strike with more than enough force to kill.

In addition to these powers of brute force she is able to whip up terrible whirlwinds, by some reports gale force storms, and scatter the shapes she makes of sand into the wind becoming deadly sandstorms.  Her primary area of appearance is in the region above the North Sea, and her most recurring failed adversary kings of Osyrae, including by all reports Osir himself, who tried to spread their influence east.

There are seven recorded battles with the Lady over the thousand years since the reign of Osir.  The last two decades before Osyrae relented to join the Empire rather than be an isolated power without hope of expansion, or trade.

Though the Lady of the Sands is amongst the most powerful beings ever recorded, and capable of devastating effects, she has generally been credited of using little more force than necessary.  The most casualties recorded in a battle with her were during the determined campaign of King Omal the Mad in 342 B.E. who ordered his army to continue to fight until his own son slew him to end the madness.  Even then only fifty soldiers died, though roughly three hundred were seriously wounded.  Other encounters in spite of grand shows of force by the Lady never exceeded casualties of between seven, and twenty, though injuries were always vastly more plentiful.

Beyond records of battle only one well recorded treatise exists on the Lady of the Sands, among the many works of Joshua Caust, an Imperial Researcher who spent several years seeking out the Lady from 147-150 E.R.  Joshua is generally well regarded, and the work is largely held up as genuine, though many besmirch a few thinly veiled passages that allude to her having been somewhat “amiable,” and an experience described as “corse, but not the least unpleasant.”

More over he does write at length about attempting to communicate with the Lady on the few occasions his shaman guide was able to lead him to her, or summon her.  His writings indicate that while she never once spoke she seemed able to understanding meaning, and intent, if not words themselves.  That she presented an air of intelligence, and behavior ranging from aloof, to curious, cautious and even “coy” and “playful” when called “beautiful.”  A statement he writes to have, “said at first in all earnest awe at the majesty of a living spell more intricate than any mortal being, and more powerful than the beating sun above, but from the look on her face, and the amused shift in her stance, I knew she had little doubt other aspects of her beauty had struck me almost as profoundly.”

No one has challenged the northern wastes with military force in centuries, and no other researchers have been able to gain audience with the illusive being.  As such it is hotly debated if she still exists, though unsubstantiated reports of her presence persist.

The Avatar:

Though baring no relation to any specific element precisely – some argue life, or throw out some sacrament about holy energy, aether, etc.  The Avatar is something of a singular, and strange spectacle.  Once a mortal Paladin who fell – or as it were ascended 0 in battle he is the exception that proves the rule about none witnessing the formation, or that he is not half flesh at all by other arguments.

The Ascension of the Avatar is one of the most well recorded events in history.  When his shield gave out under the flame onslaught of the Black King of the Osyrean Dragons, shortly after the destruction of the city of Corinthia for a moment some new shield held against the fire.  When that failed his flesh burned away.

Thinking his job done the Dragon King relented his assault, only to watch in bewilderment as flesh reknit with bone.  As light swept across the battlefield of his fallen comrades, and by some accounts tendrils from as far away as the smoldering ruins of the city.  The light consumed the frail form, and the man rose above the field of battle.  The next jut of flame washed over him like nothing, a perfect sphere around him impenetrable.

With a sweep of his hand the Avatar tossed the mighty dragon back, though his claws found purchase, and his wings slowed him.  He charged the Avatar again, only to be attacked by his own brother, another great black dragon who wounded his neck.  His loyal followers drove back his brother who fled reluctantly, and for the first time in the Dragon War the Osyrean army retreated.  The Avatar did not follow.

The Avatar appears to primarily work in pure kenetic energy, and sometimes light.  A few mages claim that what he does most closely resembles magic, but at once far more delicate in construction, and brutish in power.  His true nature is openly debated, but it is generally considered that he mostly likely is the amalgam of many lost souls from the battle of Corinthia, and possibly from the destruction of the city itself as well.

There are a few scarce reports of the voice of the Avatar, but these are fleeting at best, and not well recorded.  It is said his voice is like that of thousands all speaking incoherently to some how form words from the way they overlap.   That it is terrifying, unnerving – and yet oddly comforting in contrast to these things – that more readily describe the experience.

Arcana: The Tower

Tower.pngShown also Inverted as it is part of the symbolism of the Arcana.

The 3rd card of the House of The Works of Men (aka Mortals); The Tower. The tower like many cards in the House can be quite literal. The world is full of towers.  The walls and spires built to defend the insecure.

The tower stands between the night and the day, but when one looks closer dark clouds plague the bright dawn, and tranquility may be found in the night.  Wars are brought most often upon the day, though schemes may lurk in the dark.  In some older versions the moonward figure is a man wearing a mask, while the sunward figure is a soldier with a pike.

The tower is ultimately also iconic of home, city life, and royalty.  All of the structures of society.  The masked and helmeted figures of old tradition, and White and Red Sisters shown above, also implying masks, roles, and expectations.

Inverted the Tower can represent the loss of home, but also the rejection of the rigid structures of society. As with several other cards depicting a bisected sky the Inversion of the Tower can represent quite literally that which is upended, or backwards, or the overturning of things, as the sun sets, and moon rises.

On the differing iconography.  As noted above the Red and White women pictured are a change in the traditional imagery that popularized around 200 E.R. In the wake of the works Sylvia Grey.  Much has been written on the mater of ‘The Masks of Women and Men,’ in allusion to this change.  Sylvia Grey particularly expounded upon the topic in one of her lesser known works, a treaties on the Arcana.  The work focused heavily on the cultural symbolism, and history, and less on the actual art of divination.  Though heavily explored the idea of perspectives in interpretation.  It was thus that imagery from her writings found its way into many decks after her time.

Clearly this card was crafted some time after 200 E.R. The symbolism here of what is most likely a Red Sister in the night side, and a White Sister in the day.  This betrays an eye to post Sylvian cultural influences. It is curious to see this symbolism and variation in the covering of the more common exposed chest of the moonward figure. Such juxtaposition of Lycian iconography and Clarion modesty places a likely origin of the card from Western Palantine, most likely after 250 E.R. Even in decks with such tamed aesthetics, such modesty is rarely extended to the Empress card, even in devoutly Clarion lands. More on this another time.


 

Commentary: Yeah, this is for pragmatic reasons a censored version of the card.  Yet it provides some nice opportunity to catalogue lore of the Clarion Lycian dichotomy.  Also an apt case of the contrary point of discomfort over a literal spattering of a few pixels.  The implication of a few contours and shapes, rendering an image questionable.

I went a rather different way with my Tower relative to the interpretations of the tarot version.  I just like this better.  I did however keep an allusion to storm clouds in the distance, I think that fit well with my lore interpretations.  Also perhaps a trace of the Babel like fall of the tower.  The arrogance of mortals to defy the natural order.  Yet as the question will be raised.  What is of nature?

Also yes, this was intentionally designed to be evocative of the twins as pictured on the cover of Book II, while very clearly not being them.  Too much literalism is destructive to symbolism.  If there is a rhyme in the whims of prognosticating seers, who can say.

 

To Rival All Others: Book III: Interlude 1

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Lovers.png

I currently have a few Interludes planned between Book II and Book III as filler while I get on track for the next.  All extraneous content that might be of interest, but is not critical enough to the plot to make the cut where it belongs.

This scene would have been utterly indulgent to include, no matter how tame, and simply leading it is.  Take that as you will. It wasn’t necessary, and another vignette is not something chapter 28 needed. I guess each of the interludes is about relationships, and the complicated places we can find ourselves in them.  Particularly if one tries to square their feelings, with their bias. It’s a natural thing to ponder the emotions of being in such a situation, from all sides. Each bringing a different view.

When precisely this occurs is open for debate.  Some time before the end of Book II. Likely late 650 or early 651.  One needs to keep warm on those cold winter nights after all. A slice of life with some personal impact, but few dramatic consequences.

If the romantic negotiations of complex relationships are not your thing.  Take it or leave it as you will.

 


 

To Rival All Others

Celia looked up after a knock at the door.  She set her book aside, and strode across the chamber unsure who would be calling.  She felt a presence as she set her hand to the handle. It was slight, familiar perhaps, but she wasn’t sure.  She opened the door, and was greeted by Maeren’s insecure but far from timid eyes. Her arm across her chest, rubbing her left nervously, as each woman adopted hard to read expressions.

They stood there in silence a moment, each trying to find the measure of the other.  One more conflicted, the other more hesitant.

“May I come in?” Maeren finally asked.

“Seems I already made such arrangement, didn’t I?” Celia offered somewhat dismissively.  She stepped back, when she realized she still stood in the way, and Maeren walked in. Her manner notably sheepish.

Celia closed the door, and the other woman stood there, with her back to her.  Clearly struggling to stop fidgeting.

“You do know she loves you?  Don’t you?” Maeren asked, not turning around.

“Yes,” Celia answered, though her conviction was lacking.

Maeren turned, a sad smile on her lips.  “But you are jealous,” she added.

“We all have our weaknesses,” Celia answered with a measured, almost embarrassed breath.

Maeren stepped closer, and Celia grew more rigid.  “She loves me as well. Far more than is at all reasonable.  Some silly errant maid. One who insists she share me with others, I just can’t let go of.  Just as you insisted she share her boundless heart, if she found the inclination.”

“What,” Celia started, then swallowed, “is your point?”

“I will not steal her away from you.  She would never choose, not between us.  If either of us were to ask… I have little doubt it would completely break her heart.”

“So do you propose we choose for her?” Celia wagered uncomfortably.

“No.”  Maeren laughed.  “Quite the opposite.”  She stepped closer again, and reached out her hand.  Celia winced, but did not pull away, and Maeren set her palm to the other woman’s cheek.

“What do you want?” Celia asked, her eyes falling.

“I love her.  Like I love few others,” Maeren said.  “I saw that night how much you loved her.  I saw,” she said, momentarily overcome, “when you asked me to stay, clearly in spite of your own uncertainty, how very much you love her.”

“That,” Celia started, closed her eyes, and took a breath.  “That, with the woman we both love, on death’s door, I asked you to stay, does not mean… I…”  She opened them again, and stared defiantly at the other woman.

“Why not?” Maeren pressed.

“You do know I am with someone else, right?” Celia protested a bemused look on her face.

“Hardly an argument against, I would think,” Maeren teased.

Celia glared at her.

“Whose rules are you playing by?” Maeren asked.

“Who said it’s a game?” Celia countered harshly.

“Isn’t it fun?” Maeren teased again.  “Don’t you laugh, and giggle, and smile?”

“And cry, and cling, and worry, and worry,” Celia countered, but it felt hollow.  However pained she clearly was. She knew why. She knew her argument wouldn’t win, not even in her own head.

“Didn’t we that night?” Maeren pressed, and leaned just a little closer.  “Both with our hands on her heart, cling, and worry, and cry.”

Celia found nothing to answer that, and the presence of the other woman was completely disarming.  To the point of being suspect. She had felt it before, asked a Red Sister what it felt like. How they could use their gift to nudge another’s desire.

“She’s lent me that book of your faith,” Maeren added.  “I have found absolute solace in it. More than the spiteful rules I was raised in.  So much more like the ones I follow in through the shadows of this court.” She hesitated. “Do you find me attractive?” she challenged suddenly.

“Even without your help,” Celia said tersely, using the admission to put Maeren off her guard by the coupled accusation.  It worked, and Celia felt the change.

“What?” Maeren said surprised by the tone, but not quite understanding.

“You have a presence,” Celia said with clear frustration, but found herself leaning forward.  “Presence, implies gift. Gift, that you have learned to use to your advantage in the most…” she let her breath go, and pulled away.  “I’d call it clever, if I thought you had any idea you were doing it.”

“Doing, what?” Maeren demanded, as Celia broke free of her gravity, marched around her.  She stopped and stewed in the middle of the room. “Has anyone ever told you no?” Celia demanded.

“Yes,” Maeren said almost bewildered by the question.

Celia spun, and stepped back towards her.  A profound presence washing over the woman like a warm wonderful blanket.  A soft silken sensation that slid over the skin delightfully. “And did even one stick to it?” she asked almost breathlessly.

Maeren bit her lip.  “I…” she stammered, and tried to think back, but all she wanted was to kiss the woman in front of her, not think of others.  It was slippery. She felt sure, maybe. So many on first brush had found her forward, or repovered her, and then some other day changed their mind.  Offered, asked, often so nervously. Who, or which, wasn’t interesting. The moment she was in seemed all consuming. “I don’t know,” she answered nervously.

“It’s not control,” Celia said, her presence letting up, but not fully.  “It is so the opposite of control, and it is the easiest of things to learn by instinct.”  She stepped back, and turned away. “I shouldn’t have done that,” she muttered irritably.

“Why?” Maeren asked, flustered, and lacking any confidence.

“Because it isn’t one sided.  I don’t even think it can be.”

Maeren followed, and put her hand on the other woman’s shoulder.  “You said…implied that night,” Maeren started, and hesitated. “That gift…lets one convince the will, of what the body is already willing.”  She huffed. “That is how it works, yes? And you have to feel it yourself, to impart it, at least something this complex.”

Celia pulled away.  “If you think Katrisha did not tell me, in absolute detail, what you two have already shared, and how, you are very mistaken.  I have read the Red Book as well,” Celia said avoiding a direct answer. “Read it, again, and again. It does not define my faith, but to say it does not align…”  She turned, and stared with very mixed determination into the other woman’s eyes. “My mind, agrees. My body, agrees. My heart, remains unsettled. I love her. She, I think is closer to such faith than I may ever be.  So much more like…” She grimaced a bit at that, tempted to derail the conversation in distraction, and mire it in awkward discomfort. “You, for all I want to be jealous…”

“Yes?” Maeren pressed.

“It’s funny,” she said nervously, turning, and pacing.  “How small she makes me feel. Two years ago, she was taller than me, and now I am just a hair taller than her.  She still makes me feel small. I love her like I could love no one. I promised her…everything that I am, and I have already broken that promise.  Because I love her, and cannot tell her that I fear her, and fear for her. That what you offer appeals to me, and frustrates me. That I cannot own her, do not want to, and would give…almost anything in this world if I thought I could.”

“She,” Maeren hesitated.  She caught Celia’s hand, and waited till she relented to look her in the eye.  “She told me one morning. Pleaded with me to stay with her that day. Joked that…if a land can have two Queens, then why not three?  It was a joke, I think only in what she would not do, to become Queen, with her two consorts. The rest I do not think a jest in the least.  She loves us both, far more than I think either of us will ever know what to do with.”

“What do you want?” Celia pressed.

“You’ve said you know what she and I have shared,” Maeren said.  “It was fun. It was a game. I want to give her something more than that.  To etch myself onto her heart. To sear the memory of me – of us – onto her soul.  As she has done to mine. Yet how does one outshine the sun?” Maeren laughed.

“Or a moon so much brighter than any star.”  A funny smile crossed Celia’s lips. “Convince me, that I would not regret this.  That together we could make her never forget us.”

Maeren pulled her closer, lay her hand on her cheek, and stood there, waiting, until Celia kissed her.  It was quite some breathless time, till a door opened, and two sets of eyes turned nervously to an expected intruder.  Each filled with hope, and fear.

Katrisha could never have quite answered – not in that moment – if her heart broke, or finally felt pieced back together.  She put her hand to her chest. Made sure some effect of the poison had not returned. She found no such excuse, turned, bit her lip, then closed and sealed the door with a spell.

 


Commentary:  It is tempting to go on at length about the mechanisms in play here.  Everything from empathic mirroring to, differing social norms. Defense of position, respect, and rivalry.  Inverse perspectives of faith, and challenges to that faith. Self aware dogma that to love defiantly of convention, is to offer singular love as defiance against that convention.  Further to know those conventions, is to still be impacted by them. To be taught a path, and to be educated in the opposing view to recognize it, is to know that path is there. That it is convention.

I am trying to capture with subtlety that Celia’s upbringing makes her actually guilty that she is not the one pushing for this, let alone resistant.  This implied offer aligns with what she feels she should believe. As arbitrary as the guilt of desire in one who has been trained to abstain.

Two points on a spectrum, one who was taught to be open to such ideas, but in her heart longs for a singular importance in her lovers eyes.  One who was taught to be a proper Clarion girl, but found her solace in quite the opposite. When in a moment of tenderness she found joy again in her sometimes harsh life.

We only get a glimpse of Katrisha’s reaction, and I think I will leave the description as it stands.  Particularly as Book II concludes, and it is revealed time marches on.  Each section offering a lens through which to see the other.  Things don’t always need to be simple.

Fools May Tread: Book III: Interlude 2

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I’ve imagined this scene for incredibly long time, but always kind of known it wouldn’t go in.  It sets the stage for the begging of Book III, but that book has always begun one way, and just doesn’t leave room for this little encounter between old friends that were never quite more.  If you will forgive ‘more’ in relation to friendship and romance. One can have a lover who is not really a friend. One can certainly have a friend who is not a lover. I don’t think though that it is unfair to imply that the combination is more than one or the other, without arguing too much about relativistic feelings on love and friendship.  A complex topic to say the least. This occurs fairly soon before the start of Book III, sans some necessary travel time. I won’t give it a precise date to avoid sorting the logistics of that.


 

Fools May Tread

The Blight.  It wasn’t always called this, and in all likelihood the name would pass again into obscurity.  Seen from high above the world one might see some resemblance to a depiction of a complex mathematical set, plotted roughly in the dead trees of the once vibrant Evergrove.  The spread had stopped. The damage done lingered. Quite in spite of the best efforts of some of the worlds greatest minds, who owed what success they found to the work, and peril of one young woman.

Kiannae Ashton.  Raven haired, and a bit tall for a woman, or even a man of her native Avrale.  Her sun touched skin could almost hide the freckles around her nose, and emerald eyes just the least bit off the mark from human.  She had always had a tendency towards being a loner, and so to noone’s surprise sat on a marker stone, well apart from friend or foe.

Spellwork glowed around her, visible to even ungifted yes.  Living grass spread, and sprouted beneath her chosen seat. A flower cropped up amidst it, and turned her eye.  The presence approaching had not. Mostly out of indifference. She had thought he felt familiar. She looked up on the face of a young man who stood with trepidation at the edge of her freshly grown lawn.

“You’ve a lot of nerve,” she said.  “Sneaking up on me again, after all these years.”

“As if I could ever sneak up on you,” Zale answered.

She stood up, and stepped through her spell work without a care.  It dissolved, and swirled around her. The rapid growth ceased.

“You really did all that?” he asked, and noticed that she was maybe even a little taller than he remembered.

“All that?” she said with ill humor, gesturing behind her.  “Oh yes, probably. You’d have seen it, if you stuck around.”

“I’m not here to fight,” Zale protested.

“Why are you here?”

“Because someone asked – very nicely – that I please convince the crazy girl to stop antagonizing the Storm Queen.  Sitting right on her border. I told Landri, that if she thought I could convince you of anything, she was out of her mind.”

“I’m not antagonizing the Storm Queen,” Kiannae said.

Zale gestured exasperatedly at the sky.  “That’s a dragon! Up there! On the borders of Niven, for all the further trouble that makes.  Don’t try and tell me it’s some coincidence.”

“Oh, what?” Kiannae looked up as though surprised.  “Calista? Eh. She’s an old friend. Gentle as a kitten.  She circles overhead on the border, while I sit here on a rock.  We chat at least twice a day. Commiserate over all the unnecessary fuss everyone makes over it.”

“So you, just chat, with an ancient dragon?” Zale said incredulously.  “Daily occurrence for you now. Is it? Do you think I’ve gone daft since we last met?”

Kiannae smirked.  “I wouldn’t say gone, no.  Fairly sure you started there.”

“Don’t flirt, or, whatever this is,” Zale said exasperatedly.  “Nothing’s changed. Well, except, I’m sure you are sleeping with him now.”

“Not much sleeping,” Kiannae said.  “Though, he did figure out how to, eventually.  So I guess, now and then.” Her nonchalant facade held for a moment, before her gaze fell, and she brushed back her hair.

“What do you hope to gain?” Zale asked.

Kiannae just pointed towards the horizon.

Zale looked where eyes most often did not want to go.  A massive tree that stood like a mountain over the low plain of the blight.

“It’s nearly a thousand feet tall,” Kiannae said.  “Reportedly still growing. A little less than a foot a day since it sprouted. Since… Shadow gave his life for my mistakes.”

“You can’t possibly be taking credit, or blame, for that…thing,” Zale said.  “I had heard the stories. I knew, you had to be involved, but, that’s not something a person does!”

“Who said I’m a person?” Kiannae challenged irritably.

“Me,” he said tersely, sighed, covered his face and shook his head.

Kiannae stared at him definitely, but when he did not meet her gaze, she turned away.  “I think it’s all my fault.”

“All?” he asked, legitimately doubting the scope of her claim.

“Literally, everything,” Kiannae said.  “I remember it. A world without Osyrae breathing down our necks.  Growing up in the cloister…my…first kiss. Fates, I’m sure you would love to know about that, wouldn’t you?  Not at all who you would expect. All these little things that didn’t play out the same, and all these horrors that never were.  I don’t know how any of it fits, but I know it’s all my fault. Prophecy is one thing, but now I see pasts that never were. Tell me, is that a gifted practice, or just madness?”

“What happened?” Zale asked, and stepped a bit closer.

“I’m glad you left,” Kiannae said crossing her arms.

“Because, ‘A great many people would have to die around you,’” Zale quoted as best he could, not taking the bait of the obvious meaning.  “Before anyone offered you a crown?”

“Maybe you do listen, after all,” Kiannae grumbled.

“And I hear too,” Zale said.  “I hear you were offered one, and turned it down.”  He took a breath. “I found that seer. When I went back through Thebes, after I left.  I paid him back his two silver, for the rest of that reading. Not sure it was worth it, but, he told me what you wouldn’t have listened to.  That your sister was alive. That I had walked in the circles of gods. He told me things I knew somehow in my heart, and yet still do not believe.  Even now. I knew something far simpler. You had made up your mind.” He set his hand on her shoulder.

“Had I?” Kiannae said, and turned around, to stare him down.  “I don’t trust prophecy, but that out there. That isn’t the future.  It’s the past. I want to understand what happened. What is still happening, but the Storm Queen will permit no one, certainly not from outside Napir examine it.  Least of all me. I offended her it seems, rejecting her son.”

“What happened,” Zale said rhetorically, ignoring her intractable implications, and focusing on her first challenge.  “A man knew he could not compete, not with a living part of your own will.”

“Who said you had to compete?” Kiannae asked.  “Seems my sister is fond enough of wandering fancy.  Maybe, I should have just taken you all up. Let you all decide to stay, or go.  Kept you like pets. That’s what you called Taloe, isn’t it?”

“You aren’t her though, are you?” Zale countered.  Pushing past the distractions. He remembered how it worked.  Focus on the detail in front of you, not the deflections around it.

She turned, and walked back to her rock in a huff.  “This doesn’t end well,” Kiannae said.

“Nothing ever ends well,” Zale said.  “The ends are all the same. It’s the living, that makes the story.  What lies between the beginning, and the end. We begin in nothing, we end, in that which we did with our lives.  We end, when we stop making those differences.”

“Fates,” Kiannae muttered, but kept staring south.  “When did you get so verbose?”

“I’ve had a lot of time on the road.  Working a few hours a day, traveling or waiting the rest.  Not much else to do, but play with the wind, and read. I’ve found the writings of Sylvia get a man a long way, with, some women.  She made a life out of loving them after all.”

“Some, women,” Kiannae stressed.

“I’m not here to fight,” Zale repeated, “and I can’t imagine being with you, as anything but a fight.”

“Then why – I ask again – are you here?”

“I met some druids coming south from Lundan, on the way into Niven.  Quiet lot for the most part, but I heard them gossiping amongst themselves that the Archdruid is talking about doing rounds of the local kingdoms.  It’s not…typical to make such visits. I saw my grandfather last year, and am not keen to indulge him on some final tour, but, that would mean he is visiting Avrale.  I thought you might like to know.”

“Wouldn’t he have already done it?” Kiannae asked.

“It’s not usual, he wouldn’t rush something like this.  You’ve at least till the spring.”

“Not like I’m getting anywhere here,” Kiannae said.

“The growth…”  He hesitated. “You did that with a spell? Seems like somewhere to me.  I didn’t even think that was possible”

“I knew the quote,” Kiannae said.  “My sister gave me a copy of that book.  That woman claimed to have done no less. She started on plants, when she burned herself trying the first time.”

“I hadn’t read that version,” Zale offered.

“I didn’t do much.  Just followed the patterns already here.  Someone did this. Whether it really is a spell as big as the world, or just this, I can’t tell.  The Evergrove was built. It was a spell. It…made everything grow, and dire creatures sprang up, and learned what it had to teach.”

“What dire creatures?”

“Dryads.  Not like near Lundan, but, I can’t say if they might have been intelligent, in some other way.  The spell doesn’t go all that far, but the dryads cast it themselves. Much like the fungus we have almost wiped out.  Were both in some sense intelligent? I raised dire wolves. Animals, who were, more like people. Or are we all more like animals than we admit.  Just a fire, trying to burn out our fuel? All stories end the same. That’s the phrase, right? Spells and people, stars and worlds. We all end the same.  At least in that we all end. Everything ends.”

“If the story does not end, then how does next begin?” Zale countered.

“That, doesn’t sound like Sylvia,” Kiannae said curiously, and half looked back over her shoulder.

“Clarion, Saint Darius of the Ascension,” he answered.  “I had a lot of time to read.”

Kiannae flopped back onto the stone, and caught her head in a spell.  She stared at him upside down. “I did love you,” she said. “You insufferable boy.”  She sighed. “Fine. I’m not accomplishing anything further here. I’ll head to Avrale, see if I can’t get there ahead of your grandfather, and greet him properly.  I leave it to you, to inform Landri she’s not out of her mind.”

She smiled a bit to broadly.  “Oh, but first, I’m going to introduce you to a dragon.”  She put her fingers between her lips, and made a sharp whistle.

Allusions at Hand: Book III: Interlude 3

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I’ve been very busy.  Art, work, side gigs, PT.  The cover for and reworking the early parts of Book III that I have.  It’s weird how well the general structure still works, as new things intrude.  Yet I knew long before, this was where I was going.  I just arrived with unexpected company.

This week a glimpse at a book I might someday write, if I ever run out of more important things to do.  Next week maybe a glimpse at a book I’m more dedicated to finding the time for, and introduce a character we will be getting to know a lot better in Book III.

For this week a glance backwards.  I occasionally toy with the idea of a book starring Mercu as a young man trying to find his place.  A man of secrets, and hidden talents.  Blessed with a silver tongue, and a knack for getting in, and out of trouble.  I’m not sure enough exactly what it would look like, so for now, have this.  Which might even be an opening to such a book.


HandSingle_Reversed.png

Allusions at Hand

“What’s your name boy?”

A young man with dusty brown hair stopped, cringed, but turned and stared the woman down.  “Shouldn’t you know, seer?”

“I could pick your father from a crowd, even if I didn’t know him.  Ferus. I can tell you your mother is not with us. Though, hmm. Yes, she thought your name should not be his.  Though similar, she consented to.  Mercu, because it sounded posh, and Palentian. It means swift flowing, his means iron. Oh the irony…” She sighed and smiled. “Soul of a poet, you like that, swift traveler, and a hand that captures the eye.  I know what card I would draw from my deck for you. I know it would find its way to my grasp.”

“If you know my father, then you know he told me to stay away from you.”

“Oh, you don’t always do what he says, do you?”  She plucked a card from the top of her deck, and set it before him.  It was a woman, her chest exposed, a reversed bust more modest on the other end.  The card was upside down. “Already been with a girl.”

“You are wrong about that,” Mercu snapped.

“So I am.  Oh, who was it?  Sorry, pretty enough to’ve been.”  The old woman hummed, and closed her eyes.  “Oh, that Red Sister’s son. Cheeky lad. They had to leave after that father came complaining.  Well, at the next town.”

Mercu froze, his breath caught, and then he ran.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

“You aren’t going to tell on me, are you?” Mercu asked sheepishly, as he approached the old woman absently shuffling her cards.

“Tell on you, is precisely what I propose to do,” she said wobbling her head with some amusement.  “Tellers they sometimes call us, not seers. We see, whether we tell. One is what I am, the other what I do.”

“Please, don’t tell my father.”

“Then listen,” she said and offered him an imposing glance.

Mercu cringed, looked away, and then sat at the woman’s table.

She plucked a card again, and placed it before him.  Again, the Queen was the card, but this time right side up.

“You don’t shuffle very well.”

She placed the card back on the pile, then picked it up again, it was a King.  She set it before him reversed. “You are not what you appear.”

Mercu gave her an incredulous look.  “And what do I appear?”

“A mask, that is honest.  A lie that is true. You want nothing more than to please, and yet who you are will displease so many.  You play games, because it is the only way you can be kind. You, are a seer, not a teller. A snoop, and a meddler.  You know the ways people are broken, and love them anyway. You are not a man.”

“Are you trying to insult me?” he said sitting up more straight.

“Are you insulted?” she said with a knowing grin.

Mercu hesitated, and just stared at her defiantly, crossing his arms.

She shook her head, and took another card from the pile.  It was again the Queen, face up. She set it atop the king.  “Masks, you will always be a person of masks. Performances, both the ones you desire to give, and the ones you feel you must.”

“Name the next card,” the woman said, after a brief pause had begun to confuse him.

“I don’t know your stupid game!” Mercu said clenching his fists.

“Stop,” the woman said measuredly, “describe it,” she added through gritted teeth.

Mercu cringed at her intensity.  “I don’t know, a star. You mystical types like stars, don’t you?”

She plucked a card from the deck, and placed it beneath the King and Queen.  ‘The North Star,’ was printed across the bottom.

“You can draw whatever you please, I think you proved that already… However you do it.”

She quickly laid a card to the right, and to the left, one below the star, one each to the left, and right again.  Seven placements, and five still face down.

“This card,” she said, to the right of The North Star.

“I don’t know, flip a coin,” Mercu said tersely.

She turned it over, and there was a coin, upside down.

Mercu stared at her.  He had seen magic do a lot of things.  He had even glimpsed something when the King had replaced the Queen, but there, he was almost sure, she had done nothing.  No magic, and no sleight of hand. “How?”

“What is a prince without the gift?” the woman asked.

“An heir more likely to take the throne,” Mercu cut back.

“Oh, as if you want your father’s throne.  You are jealous of your sister. A man jealous of a woman, because she is free of this weight on your shoulders.  He would support her being an artist, a writer, a historian. Maybe even forgive her if she had the inclination to the occasion woman, she mostly doesn’t.  You, are his heir. An heir to a line of Trade Princess, so old they fade into legend, not even history. Your very name given to birds who wander, not the other way about.  Yet you, look in her eyes, and you see she wants to rule this world. You are jealous, even of her ambition, but yours are so much grander, aren’t they?”

“How?” Mercu muttered, her words cut like knives, but he could not pull away.

She indicated the next card.

“The Moon,” he said he said under his breath, not even sure why.  No flippant answer, just, he knew it must be.

She turned up the card, and there it was.

“How literal.  How figurative.  The sun is power, and fury, but you would rather be the mirror.  The moon endures by waxing, and waning. You know the true power in this world, that true change must come slowly.  You know that rhythm, and story disarm. That clever words open ears, and other things. You even know that’s what I’m doing.  That the mysticism, the rhymes are tools. Flirtations that make us take note. The cards are tools. I do not choose the card I draw, I know the card I must.  It is a tool, a measuring stick, not what is measured. You know the stars do not tell our fate, but that they do align. That the moon’s wavering, is but the spiral of worlds, and yet she set the tide.  You are reason, amidst flights of fancy.”

She pointed to another card.

“The Tree,” she said, turning over the card below The Star.  “The Ash of Autumn.”

It was her turn to look at him strangely.  “You are what is measured by. A fixed point.  A landmark, the world changes around you, as the true travelers pass you by.  You are shade, on a hot summer day. You are the canopy, that holds the winter snow at bay.  Evergreen, and yet oh so ever mortal. Someone has built a castle beside you.”

She pointed to the next card.

“Why are you trying to make a fool of me?” he demanded.  Feeling like he was under some spell, and trying to break free.

She smirked, and turned the card over.  The Fool. Though it was reversed, a thing that took a moment given the figure stood at a crossroads, standing inverted, not upon the ground, but feet planted firmly on the precarious boards of the sign.

“You, are the one who plays the fool.  You know the world is mad, and a sane man in such a world, is the fool in the eyes of of the blind.  You see the world for what it is, but you keep your secrets, from those not ready to know. Always honest in your way, no matter how readily you mislead.  The truth, will not always be heard. The inevitable accepted, only when it comes.”

She indicated the last card.

“The Tower,” Mercu said, and closed his eyes.  “Like a rook. The chess piece.”

The woman nodded, and did not even turn the card over.  “You will teach the Fates themselves to play. The unsung hero, the bard.  In the structure of society, the fools know the truth. We are all fools. We all fool ourselves.  Arrogance, will be your enemy, for confidence will be your friend. You will love a woman dearly. You will have her heart completely.  She would marry you, and give you an heir and knight. Yet the confidence of your love, will be too much, and she will never believe she could love you so.  Duty, and love. Each will choose the other. She is not your fate. You will love a man dearly, but you will never be only his. You will wear the masque, and make it true.  A…”

“Leave him be, Cassandra!” a man said angrily marching up on them.  “I told you boy, don’t mess with seers.” He huffed, and then looked up from Mercu to the woman.  “Did he pay?” the man demanded, and slammed his fist down on the table.

Cassandra just smiled.

He slammed a gold coin on the table.  “Don’t toy with my boy,” he said fiercely.  “You were paid. Don’t meddle.”

She turned the last card upright.  It was a hand with an eye emblazoned upon the back.  It was reversed, with ‘The Hand’ written upside down.

“I want a contract,” the woman said.  “Not a coin. A seat, not a salary. You know no caravan travels long without a seer.  I will not make the boy a pawn, if you make me a Queen.”

“What?  Are you proposing…” the man looked utterly bewildered.

“Fates, you are literal Ferus.  No, you old bandit, not that. But it is a contract, all the same.  I marry your caravan, not you. Seven years to start. I keep the flies away, I lure in those who want to see.  I keep my hands off your boy, and theirs as well. I’ve already spoiled one love affair you wouldn’t have approved.  Sure you wouldn’t like me to foil the other?” She tilted her head to the side in an unnerving way.

“I will have your contract in the morning,” Ferus said through gritted teeth.

The man took Mercu’s hand, and tried to pull him away.

She set her hand on his as he resisted just out of spite for his father’s behavior.  “What you make of yourself, is your own affair.” Mercu stopped resisting in surprise.

“I’m watching you woman!” his father snapped, and spun around to point at her.

“Contract isn’t signed yet,” she said with a shrug.  “Hurry, hurry.”

They walked in silence a good twenty paces before Ferus let his son’s hand go.

“If you hate seers so much, why do you let them in the caravan?” Mercu asked with irritation at his father.

“Better the pits† you know,” Ferus muttered.  “They find their way in, one way or another. Like fleas on a dog.”


Commentary: †I originally wrote the line Abyss, to carry through with the mythos. but then took a step back and considered the possible derivations of the etymology of such use.  Pitted roads to a caravan master might weight another synonym in for the Abyss, taking a step away from the Devil allegory, and looking to a more material, pragmatic expression.