Sorceri in Fantastical Role Plays Posted October 12 · Report post Fade walked swiftly down the cobbled roads of Grimstone’s main street. The sketchy old town was mostly hidden in darkness at night, illuminated only by the firelight of the few homes and establishments still awake. The rain was falling in that half-hearted way it always did just before it finally gave up. Eilun, the smaller of the moons was beginning to pierce through the gaps in the clouds, casting a faintly purple light. The streets were empty, Grimstone was not the kind of place that you stayed out in after dark, well, at least if you were other people. Darkness frightened most people, but Fade was the type of creature that relished the darkness and the shadows. Of course, there were lots of dangers in the darkness, but he had yet to encounter anything that was quite as dangerous as he was. He turned on to a side street and made his way towards the orange glow of lamplight coming from a small tavern. It was a little out of the way but seemed to still have patrons. He stepped inside. Rainwater dripped from his cloak on to the wooden floorboards. He was immediately greeted by warm air and bright light from the torchlights. He noted the tiny serpent creatures that danced around the flames, fire serpents. The lesser spirits were harmless and often entirely oblivious to their surroundings, but they seemed to appear around open flames quite often. Fade stalked across the room and sat himself at a stool by the bar, outwardly paying no attention to the other patrons. He kept his hood up, obscuring his face as the barman came up to him and cleared his throat. He kept his gaze down at the scratched wood of the bar and hesitated for a moment, keeping his body hunched and cowered slightly. The trouble with small towns is that strange faces brought suspicion. Appearing weak was an effective means of lowering someone’s guard. “What’ll it be?” The barman asked finally. “Whisky.” He said it quickly, let out fall out of his mouth despite himself. It took a bit of practice to mimic the quick, desperate plea of a man who was dependent on his liquor. He did not look up but none the less he could see the barman’s expression. In fact, he could see the entire room he was sitting in. Strictly speaking all he could see was the bar in front of him, yet he had a sense of where everything was, in the way that you know what your house looks like and where everything is placed even when you aren’t in it, like a memory. The memories were not his, however. There was another presence, a light pressure he could feel against his mind, a creature that observed while he played the role of a harmless drunk. Dangerous people were often easy to spot, because you could watch them watching everything around them, assessing and calculating. Fade had kept his head down the entire time, and yet he knew that there were 6 people in the room including himself. Three of them sat at a table behind him and to his left, another was sat alone in a small table by the far wall to his right, and the barman was in front of him. He was also aware that there were at least 3 distinct sounds of footsteps from the floor above him. As the barman poured him a glass of whisky he became aware that the barman was armed with a small dirk he kept stuffed in his left sleeve. The 3 men at the table all carried swords, and the lone woman had no visible weapons. “-Spotter’s Wood has gone dark as well, what are- “ “Sh!” One of the men shushed the other one who spoke, slapping him lightly on the head. “What? It’s just some old wino.” The man replied in a hushed whisper that Fade shouldn’t have been able to hear, and yet he could. “Probably doesn’t know his arse from his elbow I reckon.” “Yeah and twits like you mouthing off is exactly why every single one of our hideouts have been cleaned out. How else do you think people find out?” Old clients, dead drop surveillance, paying off multiple informants, hiring plants to pretend to be clients. Fade listed off just a handful of the many ways in which one could uncover the secret hideouts of a group of assassins. If it was as easy as overhearing someone in a pub then he’d have finished this job months ago. 4 months, 47 people killed. 47 members of the most renowned assassin guild in The Reach, a guild known as Maelstrom. Renown probably wasn’t a great quality in assassins, but while the guild was famous, the people within it were not. Fade had tracked down most of them now. He had located their various front operations, killed their operatives and destroyed their documents. Anything of real value would be in the hands of whoever was running this operation, a person he had yet to identify. A person that he was almost certain was one of the three footsteps from the floor above. This dirty little pub was the last of their hideouts, and the dregs had come running here just as he had expected. Now he just had to think about how to end them all. Any disturbance would alert the people one floor up. If they chose to fight then that wasn’t an issue, but if they chose to flee that would be a problem. It was not worth the risk. “6 dims.” The barman said, holding his hand out for Fade to pay him. Fade reached into his cloak and retrieved his money pouch. He opened it and took out 6 small grey coins. The barman took them and stepped away from Fade, who sipped his whisky and hid his annoyance. 6 dims for this piss? In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a large sum. He’d paid as much as 4 brights for whisky before, but stuff that expensive was in a different league entirely. Even that wasn’t a great deal of money for him. This job alone was paying him 15 blindings, he knew Lords that didn’t have that much wealth. “She watches.” A voice in his head said suddenly. It was a deep, harsh voice that only barely resembled that of a human. “The one who sits by herself, she is watching you carefully” the voice said with a throaty, purring quality. Fade did not respond; the creature could speak to his mind, but he could not speak back in the same way. Instead he began to think about his next step. The men sitting together would have to be dispatched quickly if he was to prevent them from raising alarm, yet the woman sitting by herself was focused on him, likely she was the most capable person in the room. He knew of only 6 more operatives he had left to kill, and this barman would make seven. So, the woman…had she slipped by his intel? Or perhaps one of the ones upstairs was a captive, or a new initiate? What is this woman was the ringleader? She seemed sharp enough to have caught Kuuri’s attention anyway. He considered his next step, and then Fade downed the rest of the terrible whisky and placed the glass back on the table. “Another please, barkeep.” He said, and he tapped his finger on the edge of the glass. The barman finished cleaning a glass with a rag that looked dirtier than what it was apparently cleaning. He picked up the bottle of whisky and came over to pour the liquid into Fade’s glass. As he began to pour his eyes focused on the glass. Fade took an inhalation of breath and held it, a rehearsed behavior for him by now, and then without warning he disappeared, leaving behind wisps of black smoke. He reappeared behind the bar, at the barman’s back, and in the blink of an eye he had grabbed the barman’s head from behind and pulled it back, as he drew the sharp end of a curved dagger along his throat. He disappeared again, and by the time the barman had fallen, the whisky bottle smashing against the ground, he had already reappeared behind one of the men at the table, and he slit that man’s throat as the other two shot up, their chairs scraping in horror. In a blink he had teleported once more, appearing in a crouch on the table, he rammed the dagger up into the soft flesh under the man’s jaw at an angle, causing him to gargle quietly as life rapidly fled from him. The remaining man was about to scream, Fade wouldn’t be able to react in time. His shadow rippled, and he felt the sudden surge of excitement from the creature. A large black cat shot out of his shadow like it was the exit to a dark cave, the creature mauled the man, clamping its powerful jaws on his throat and riding him backwards to the ground, where he menaced at his flesh, reveling in the kill. With another blink Fade was at the woman who had stood up from her chair, but as he came to face her she held her hands up in surrender, a smirk across her face. In her right hand she held an object. It was a stamp, one used for sealing wax. His eyes studied the glyph on the end of the stamp. The stylized, symmetrical glyph was not one he could read, it was a uniquely designed glyph and he was not scholarly enough to make out the script the glyph had been derived from. Yet he recognized it immediately. The black cat padded up behind him, it was the size of a large dog, lean and muscular. Its eyes were an alluring shade of purple, the pupil’s tiny slits. Kuuri was no ordinary beast. His black fur seemed to glint every so often, as if his coat were made of the night sky itself, stars twinkling throughout. “Why is she still alive?” Kuuri asked, sounding mildly incredulous. “Because…this woman is our employer.” Fade replied, and he turned towards the woman who was still smirking, and she lowered her arms. “I suppose I should be glad that you’re as sharp as I expected, or else I might have been a beautiful corpse, hm?” The woman had the light tan skin of a woman from Mesmer, she had hair the colour of sand, long with loose curls. She was dressed in a white shirt with a green jerkin, and a pair of brown breeches, and knee-high brown boots. Along with the maroon bandana she had tied around her head she didn’t dress much like a lady. “I have questions.” Fade said to her, but she held up a hand to stop him from asking them. “You are close, but you haven’t finished your job yet.” She said with that sly grin, “I’ll answer you when you’re done.” Fade resisted to urge to cut her down right there. He was not a man to be toyed with, and he had no patience for people who liked to play games with him. At the same time, he could not allow himself failure, he could not allow a contract to be unfulfilled. “Very well.” He said, and then he turned around and walked across the room, drawing the other curved dagger from his belt and held each in a reverse grip as he walked up the stairs to the next floor. Kuuri followed him without comment and disappeared inside his shadow once more. Fade’s extrasensory awareness returned to him as Kuuri returned to his shadow. While they were bonded in such a way his senses became more acute. Teleporting was harder without Kuuri within his shadow, it required more calculation. As he walked up the steps his awareness told him that one of his targets was reaching for the door ahead of them. He quickened his pace and as the door opened a balding man emerged in its frame and had just enough time to look alarmed before Fade teleported behind him and kicked him, sending the man tumbling down the stairs to the bar. Fade turned to face the last two people in the room. One was just getting up from a chair behind a desk while the other had already drawn his sword and was advancing towards Fade. The man went at a run and Fade waited for him. His attacker came at his with a strong forward thrust which Fade side stepped. The man swung the blade upwards and Fade leaned away from it and ducked as it went over his head. From the crouch he made a dive at the man, and then both of their worlds were engulfed in black smoke. There was a sudden rush of cold air, and the sensation of plummeting. The world around them was black, but below them there were some soft glows of light that were gradually getting closer. Fade let go of the man, pushing him away with a sudden blast of wind, and the man screamed as he fell towards the earth, his fate sealed. Another blink and Fade reappeared in the room. Gravity’s work on him was still going, and as he reappeared he had positioned himself sideways, and he fell forward through the room, towards the last remaining member of Maelstrom. His foot struck the man with a powerful kick, but the man did not budge. The impact was as if he’d hit a solid wall, and as he fell back and landed on his feet it was only then that he saw the thick tree branches that were coiled around the man’s legs, holding him firmly in place. “Finally.” Fade said with a nod of respect, “I figured one of you had to be bonded, surely.” “Second Awakening.” The man replied with a smirk. The wood of the floor suddenly shot up and grew around Fade, coiling rapidly around his limbs, tightly binding him until he was imprisoned in a mess of thick, twisting branches and vines. “So, you are the one who has devastated my guild? Disappointing I have to say…I thought you would offer up more of a challenge.” “…Well I didn’t expect such a display if I’m honest. How much growth did you have to absorb to pull this off? Second Awakening you said? So…years of stockpiling I imagine.” “What can I say? I’m prepared.” The man replied smugly, “I’ve been bonded since childhood, I achieved my Second Awakening almost 5 years ago now, I’ve adapted well to the power that comes with it. And what of you? Second Awakening also?” Fade allowed himself a satisfied smirk. “Seventh.” He said casually. “What?” came the dumbfounded response. Fade suddenly teleported, freeing himself from his bonds. Dread filled his target’s eyes as he flickered in and out of existence, rapidly cutting at the man, blood sprayed across the room, Fade moving and cutting at him with such speed that the poor man could not even track him. In moments he fell to the ground, his body in tatters, and the floor crimson with his blood. “Messy.” Kuuri said as he emerged from Fade’s shadow and stalked across the room, inspecting the scene. “I do enjoy the sight of blood…but this is out of character for you.” “A brief lapse of judgement.” Fade replied as he walked over to the desk on the other side of the room. In truth, for the longest time, he had become steadily bored of this work. Nothing seemed to offer him a worthy challenge any more. So, for a moment he decided to cut loose. “It won’t happen again.” He added as he inspected the desk and picked up the book on it. “It had better not.” Kuuri replied with a warning tone, “I will not allow my power to be wielded by a man who cannot control himself. Our bargain can come to an end, I am not some sentimental guardian spirit who will follow you to the ends of the earth.” “I am well aware of that, thank you.” Fade replied as he flicked through the pages of the book. It was a ledger written in Ishaaran script. He had a basic understanding of the script, but he was no scribe. Even to his novice reading level the structure seemed quite unusual.” “What is in it?” Kuuri asked, as he hopped up on to the desk and turned around in a circle before sitting down, his tail flicking lazily. “It’s a cypher.” Fade replied, closing the book shut. “Probably a ledger…client list perhaps. If they’ve taken the trouble to encode the script, then it’s probably valuable information.” “Very valuable.” Said the woman from before as she emerged from the staircase, “I think that man you threw down the stairs was the scribe. His head is bleeding quite heavily…I’m fairly sure he’s dead.” “As will you be if you do not start explaining yourself.” Fade replied coldly “Now is that any way to speak to your employer?” The woman asked with a smirk. “You are no longer my employer, I have fulfilled my end of our contract. Now you are simply a woman who owes me a great debt.” Fade replied. The woman sighed and tossed a large pouch of coins towards him and they landed with a clink on the floor. “15 blindings as agreed.” The woman said, “Now I have more work for you if you’re interested.” “You are a very capable woman, you already knew where this hideout was, you knew the value of the book I hold, and you did not show even the slightest bit of surprise at witnessing my power.” Fade walked over to the money pouch and picked it up, fastening it to his belt. “I do not work with people who know more about me than I do them, especially since I work hard to keep a low profile.” “Yes, you do.” She agreed, “I am very resourceful though. Many know of the legendary assassin Fade, but I doubt many living people know that you are he. You are also Vama The Knife, Kurik Bloodstealer, and at least a dozen other identities including, once, the Lord of Duskhollow. However, I know the one name that no one else knows you by…Raze Trellian.” The utterance of that name rattled Fade to his core. That name…his true name. How could she know it? He had not uttered it himself in…how long had it been? 30 years? More? “You better have a good offer, or I’ll end you right here.” He growled. “Of course, I have a challenge that is fit only for the very best assassin Ishaar has ever seen. The reward for which is 200 blindings.” “That’s obscene, you can’t possibly have that much wealth.” Fade replied. “I can, and I do…” The woman said, “Of course I know money is not the wealth you seek. You desire a real challenge…something that will help you reach your true goal…and yes, I know what that is too. Do you think you are ready for it?” Fade was still toying with the idea of slitting her throat. She knew far too much about him. Yet she knew exactly what he was after. She had set this little job up as a test, he could see that now. Months of his life spent on a test, so that she could see if he was worthy of her true mission. What could possibly be so challenging? “Tell me.” He demanded. “I want you to assassinate Emperor Reshik Esperitus Hashiram, The Ascendant God.” She said, and her sick little grin only got wider. Fade almost laughed. The idea was ridiculous, but then he saw that despite the smirk he could see in this woman’s eyes that she was serious. “You wish me to kill an immortal being that has ruled this land uncontested for at least 2 millennia?” Fade asked. Kuuri gave an excited purr. “He is worthy prey.” Kuuri said encouragingly. “He’s God!” Fade protested “God is dead, Raze Trellian.” The woman said. “Reshik is but a man who has claimed power…just as you have. He can be killed, I promise you that.” “If you’re so sure then why don’t you do it yourself?” Fade asked “Unfortunately I am somewhat forcibly following a path of pacifism.” She replied, “Which is why I wish for you to be my knife. What say you Ra-“ “Fade, if you please.” Fade replied. “And what do I call you?” “Me?” The woman asked, “You can call me Wander.” --- --- --- --- "When I was a boy Etri helped me tend my mother's garden. All I could offer was a light touch, but time and sustenance were still necessary for growth. When I attempted to grow the plants quicker i would fall deeply lethargic and occasionally fell to illness. Yet when I was a man with children of my own I found that I could do so much more with Etri's help. Where once I drew from within I now find power from elsewhere." This excerpt from the memoirs of Manev Laerin, a horticulturalist from the 12th century is one of the earliest records of humankind's awareness of Spiritual Investment. Interestingly the absence of scribe annotations indicates that the words were possibly written by the man himself. It is interesting to see literacy in a man already specialized in another field, especially in a text from almost 800 years ago. The text contains no other mention of Investment and Manev seems unaware of what essence he drew power from. Wood elemental sorcery is known to draw Investment from plants, causing them to wither, then this energy can be distributed to other plant matter to allow for growth. This is a logical parallel, rapid decay of one source and the rapid growth of another. If this is an accurate assessment of the investment process then it indicates that energy cannot be generated via Sorcery, it is more likely that this phenomenon is simply the redistribution of energy which already exists within our world. Osha indicates that my hypothesis is too rigid, too simple. As always, he is unable to offer further extrapolation. It is a frustrating but nonetheless universal trait of spirits that their knowledge is dependent on that of their bond partner. Osha declares that he knows the answers I seek, but that he cannot summon them in to words. He described this as, "Knowledge held captive. Treasures locked within a chest. A key we must find. The right key. Discovery!" Use of metaphor is a relatively new behavior to him, in our youth together Osha often found metaphors confusing. Osha's understanding begins to extend beyond logical concepts and he begins to contemplate abstraction. The indication is as clear to me as it is to anyone who has achieved the Second Awakening and beyond; We must learn on our own, we must discover the secrets of our bond. Spirits can guide us but are unable to simply supply the answers we seek. It is interesting that with such a range of different spirits catalogued within our world that all recognize and are bound to the principles of endeavor. This may seem a digression, but I think these factors are related. Common spirits are often bound by trade guilds to enhance their craft. While common spirits can form a lasting bond, unlike the typical temporary bond of a lesser spirit, it is unheard of for such spirits and their partners to achieve anything beyond the Second Awakening. Common spirits also seem to invest in essences closer to their elemental association; Fire spirits draw in heat, Water spirits draw in water, Earth spirits draw in earth and so on. Yet these examples of broader investment seem to be relative to the potential abilities that can manifest via the bond. The Sorcerium teaches that spirits are primarily beings that represent natural forces, and secondarily they are shaped by the ideas of humans. Yet research cultivated over 2 millennia has enriched our understanding of the natural world. The five elements that Sorceri doctrine clings so tightly to has already been proven to be mere vagaries. In developing my own sorcery with water, I have discovered that this substance which we refer to as an element is in fact a compound of other elements. One of these elements I have found is quite possibly the most abundant element in our entire land, perhaps the entire world. Water can exist in a solid, liquid or gas state based on the conditions of its environment, and I have found that through deeper understanding of the very nature of this element I have achieved a degree of refined manipulation that has yet to be matched by any water sorcerer I have encountered. Is it possible that common elemental spirits are manifestations of the very common understanding of said elements? Could spirits be manifestations of human cognition in their entirety? If my hypothesis is correct, then our limitations in manipulating the forces of this world are only limited by our individual understanding of the finer workings of nature. As our understanding of the world advances will our spirits change to adapt to these refined ideas? Or will new spirits be born? As dated ideas begin to fade in to history will spirits that represent these ideas also perish? So many questions and yet if I am to answer them all I would require more minds working on the problem. Yet convincing my peers to focus on such things will require undeniable evidence. Any potential doubt in my hypothesis will result in dismissal. Unfortunately, society paints me a heretic for my ideas. “Mmm!” The approving hum broke Talena’s concentration and she looked up from her notebook to the source of the noise. She was in her study, a room of smooth stone walls the colour of sand. Her space was clean and utilitarian. Bookshelves lined the walls, each crammed full of dense volumes detailing a variety of strictly academic studies, she had little interest in the creative arts. She sat at her writing desk, towers of books and stacks of paper piled around her. The room was dim, lit only by a series of candles around the room that gave a warm, orange glow. The source of the noise was an odd creature that had been hovering at her shoulder but had now descended closer to her notebook and seemed to be reading over her inscriptions intently, which was quite odd considering it didn’t have any eyes to speak of. The spirit was about the size of a small melon and shaped like an orb comprised of a viscous, metallic substance that provided warped reflections of its surroundings. It hovered in the air without any visible supports, its surface smooth for now. “Mmm!” It hummed once more, and it’s surface buzzed with a rippling vibration, “Provocative. Mm…dangerous ideas. Many enemies could be made of this.” “You say that like I don’t already have an ocean of them.” Talena replied with a quirk of her eyebrow. “Incorrect.” The orb replied, “Your fellow humans disdain you the most. The fish have no quarrel with you, I think.” Talena rolled her eyes at this. He was getting better at metaphor, but he had clearly missed that one. “Must you be so literal, Osha?” She asked him, but she couldn’t help but smirk a little at him. “Mmm. Language is structured to convey thoughts clearly. Words have clear definitions. This is logical. Mmmetaphor is…incoherent. Mm…why do humans create rules only to break them? Then they become upset when they are not understood.” “It was a comparison. The ocean is incredibly vast, as is the collection of people who oppose my ideas.” Talena explained. “Yet the ocean is far vaster than the land. It can fit the entire human population of Ishaar within it many times over. Therefore, the comparison is…mmm…exaggerated.” “Yes, sometimes we exaggerate for effect.” Talena said as she settled in to get back to her writing. “What effect? Confusion? Inaccuracy?” “Oh be quiet,” Talena said with a huff. The little sprite was an annoyingly logical thinker at times, although he was beginning to get better at understanding the nuances of human interaction. Talena found her companion’s confusion and constant questions to be quite charming…most of the time. Osha hummed again, something he did often when he was thinking. At least she assumed that was why he did it, although he seemed to vibrate more whenever he was excited, so perhaps it was simply an expression of interest. He was quite the oddity, then again people said the same thing about her, and that was probably why they were such an inseparable pair. Osha had been with Talena since she was a baby, the little spirit had been there for as long as she could recall. For a great deal of that time he had been quiet but curious and had only started to master the art of speech when she was in her teens. Often when he spoke he came across as naïve, but other times he displayed an exceptionally complex understanding that surpassed her own. For most of her childhood she had referred to Osha as an “it”, as there was nothing about his form that implied a gender, but soon after he began to speak he had made it very clear that he was a “he” and not an “it”. She wasn’t quite sure why a floating ball of liquid metal would have such a passionate stance on pronouns, but it didn’t matter to her in any case. For all his oddities he was still her very best friend. The door to her study opened without warning and a tall, slender woman in a sleek, black dress with gold trim, buttoned up the right side of her torso from waist to neck, the collar high and fitted closely to her neckline. The sleeves were tight and went the length of her arms, the material covering her palms, buttoned in the space between her middle and index fingers. It was a dress of traditional Mesmeri fashion, the black and gold colouring indicating her position as a member of the Sorcerium. Talena knew she was no Sorceri agent or priest, however. The woman had lightly tan skin and light brown hair that was tied back in a bun, with three golden hair sticks pinning it from either side. Her eyes were dark, and she had speckles of brown freckles around her high cheekbones. “I told you to go to bed” She chided at Talena. “So? I see you’re still up.” Talena replied, rolling her eyes. “Still up?” The woman replied as she glided across the room and pulled open the curtains, then opened the wooden hatch in the window and the room was suddenly aglow with morning sunshine that briefly blinded Talena. “I’ve slept, woke up, bathed and eaten since then!” Talena groaned as she adjusted to the light. Had it been that long? She could have sworn it had only been an hour or two at most. Yet the woman was undoubtedly right, as she had been every other time this had happened. “Meridia I-“ “Three nights in a row! All this lack of sleep cannot be good for you.” Meridia said sternly, “Have you eaten?” “No I’ve just…” Talena’s eyes fell to the basin of water that was to the right of her between two stacks of books. “Sorcery is not a substitute for a balanced diet and a good night’s rest.” Meridia said with a narrow-eyed scowl that made Talena feel like she was a little girl again. “Meridia, you are my matron, not my mother and I’m 36 years old, I am not a child.” Talena replied testily. She didn’t like anyone talking to her like that, not even the woman whose job was to look after her. “I’ll stop treating you like a child when you stop acting like one.” Meridia said as she began tidying up the room, picking up books and placing them back on the shelves. “This is not how a noble lady is supposed to behave.” “Oh I’m sorry am I supposed to fritter my time away buying gowns and courting the sons of Highlords like all the pretty little puffs at court?” Talena replied with a tone of revulsion, “Believe it or not I have more important matters to be dealing with.” Meridia stopped what she was doing and turned around to face Talena. Her stern expression softened slightly as she shook her head slightly. “Talenazerazar Esperitus Hashiram…” She used Talena’s full name, “Have you had a good look at yourself lately?” Talena looked down at herself. She was dressed in a dress of a similar modest style as Meridia’s but hers was an aquatic blue with dark blue trim and detailed filigree woven in to the fabric. She had a similar skin tone and hair colour to Meridia, as did most Mesmeri natives, but her hair was long with full, wavy curves, and her eyes were a brilliant blue. “You have a brilliant mind and I have no desire for you to dull it, but you are also a beautiful young woman and that combination makes you a force to rival the five elements. You are the only daughter, the only child to ever be conceived in the 2000-year reign of your father. You have position and power like no other and yet you choose to hide yourself away with all of these books.” “These books are the reason my mind is so sharp!” Talena said firmly. “And they are the reason why no one heeds you despite your mind.” Meridia replied, “You must make the world listens to your knowledge…you must demand their respect. You are the daughter of God, after all.” “He is just a man.” Talena said dismissively. Why did Meridia continue to bring that up? She knew Talena’s feelings on the matter. “That man saved us from the Devourers. He united us, made us whole.” “Yes, yes because he fused with the great elemental spirits and bla bla bla” Talena waved her hand mockingly as she spoke. “No, he accomplished that because he actually did something with his talents, Talena. I just wish you would too.” Meridia looked away as she finished speaking, and then she left the room leaving Talena to feel guilty and a little embarrassed. That woman had a terrible habit of always being right. Unfortunately, she had taken care of Talena since she had been a little girl when her mother had died. Her father was too busy ruling the known world to spend time parenting his only daughter, of course. “Mmm! I like her. She is wise.” Osha hummed. “Oh, shut up.” Talena bit back. The little spirit edged closer to her, and he nudged against her cheek and buzzed against her affectionately. “I like you too.” He said. “Yes and I like you too, you little demon.” “I am not a demon!” Osha buzzed indignantly. Talena shook her head, then she got up off her seat. It was time for her to get on with her day. She felt the prickling, tight sensation of exhaustion creeping up on her. She reflexively reached for the basin of water and flexed her fingers in a beckoning motion. The water rose up out of the basin and reached for her waiting hand like a vine coiling up a tree. The water enveloped her arm but then sank away as she absorbed it, investing its energy within herself. Immediately she tapped the invested power. Water – the element necessary for all life to exist, it seemed natural that it was associated with healing. She felt its properties immediately, easing away the tension in her muscles and providing her with a boost of wakefulness. She had not slept a wink in 3 days, normally at this point any ordinary person would be dead on their feet, but with just a short working of sorcery she felt sharp and ready to start her day. The nagging empty feeling in her stomach, however, was not so easily ignored. “Talena.” Osha said as he hovered by her head, floating along with her as she left her study and entered the hallway outside, “Investing heals only physical ailments…mmm…it does not facilitate biological processes required for health.” “It relieves the tension in my muscles, provides me with wakefulness and gives me strength and energy to keep going.” Talena replied. They moved down the short hallway and came out on to a small, secluded courtyard inside the palace, a simple square space with a garden, lots of potted plants and colourful flowers. The air was more humid in the outdoors, and the plants made the air smell sweet. “Mmm…sleep increases cerebrospinal fluid flow within the brain dramatically. It cleans the brain of toxins. Mmm…efficient.” Osha buzzed. Talena frowned. “And how would you know such a thing?” She asked “Humans…comprised mostly of water.” Osha explained, “Your bodies are…protected…mm…cannot be touched by sorcery. Yet external sources can enter…mmm…water invested within the body provides a map. You know this…mmm…you have seen it.” She nodded, she had indeed. In fact, it was what had allowed her to heal her exhaustion just a moment ago. It was also true that all life was comprised mostly of water, except for spirits of course. Talena had pondered why she could not manipulate the water that is within a person quite early into her sorcery training. It was considered a fundamental principle that sorcery could not be used to affect the human body. However, she herself had circumvented this, as had any who used the healing properties of water sorcery. To do so one had to introduce an external source of water to the body, a source that was already affected by sorcery. Doing so provided the wielder with a kind of sense of the body, an impression of its inner workings, like a complex diagram within their minds. They could use the invested water to locate problems within the body and often provide healing. In this sense water was like a conduit, it could transport the necessary chemicals required to rapidly heal wounds, mend bones, flush out poisons and several other medical marvels. “Yes, I have used healing sense Osha, but I’ve never seen what you have just described.” Talena said as they passed through the courtyard and through into a hallway on the adjacent side. “You are human.” Osha said simply, “Humans think in a line. They move from one point to the next. Dots connecting. Mmm…following a trail. Only one thought at a time.” “And spirits are different?” Talena asked “I am different.” Osha clarified, “I cannot speak for other spirits. It is hard to describe. Knowing yet not knowing. Knowledge there yet unable to be grasped. This realm…we forget ourselves…mmm…like fish swim in a school, we drift…coordinated yet unknowing. I see patterns…mmm…possibilities…a map with no key…no direction.” Amazing. Talena marvelled at these moments with Osha. He interpreted experiences differently from her. So often the little orb seemed naïve, and then other times he was brilliant. She had no doubt that in this spirit’s mind were the answers to questions scholars had been trying to decipher. Through simple observation he saw ideas that hadn’t even occurred to her, or perhaps anyone. “Additionally…healing sorcery requires presence of substantial nutrients…sorcery removes the requirement of time yet….mmmatter…matters. Matter, matter, matter….your language is flawed at times.” The little orb rippled in a manner that reminded Talena of someone shivering, shaking off an unpleasant sensation, “Nutrients must be present. If you do not eat then healing will consume your reserves, in time you will have none left. You will die, and sorcery will not save you.” “I see…” Talena said. As they continued through the palace the revelations had given her a rather pressing urge to eat something. She realized that Meridia had warned her to do these things as well, but her arguments came from a place of caring, she worried for Talena. Osha had provided a logical explanation for this, and it had made sense to her, and that desire to follow logic had driven her faster than the simple consideration of another person. The thought of that troubled her. Was she becoming cold? “And this…brain cleaning cycle you spoke of, is that life threatening if avoided?” She asked. “Mmm…yes, however it happens much more slowly.” Osha buzzed, “However avoiding this process effects cognitive capability. Impaired reasoning. Decreased problem-solving capability. Decreased attention span. Decreased attention to detail. Memory lapses. Depression.” “That settles it then.” Talena said, sounding slightly alarmed, “Regular sleep and food breaks from now on.” “Mmm…A wise decision.” Osha replied, sounding slightly relieved. “You should have listened to Meridia. She is smart. I like her.” “Shut. Up.” Talena demanded with a scowl, and the pair went off to finally get something to eat. --- --- --- --- The orange glow of fire light illuminated the warcamp. Out in the barren drylands of the Solari desert, away from the intense glows of the cities the night sky was clear. Bright stars twinkled overhead. Twin moons glowed like a beacon in the sky, Eilun the smaller moon that would rise first, and Makath the larger would rise second but would always overtake her sister and fall first. The camp was bustling with energy, although only a temporary military settlement it was the size of a town and was equipped with vendors, smithies, a lumber yard and large warehouses used for food and resource storage. Nazir walked through the barracks. His shoulder-length brown hair was tied back in a ponytail, revealing a clean-shaven face with dark brown eyes. Like every other man and woman in the camp his skin was the dark tan of the Solari. He had a slim, lean build and angular features, and was an average height for a Solari standing at 6 and a half feet tall. A black symbol was tattooed on the center of his forehead, three identically sized rhombus shapes, two adjacent to one another, with the third slotted in the space beneath them. The same symbol could be seen on all of the soldiers and workers around him, as they were all Kalak just as he was. The heat of the day had escaped in to the clear skies and the air had become cold. Nazir wore the standard uniform of the Ishaaran Imperial Army; black boots that went up to the knee, tan breeches and a cobalt blue double-breasted undercoat with silver buttons and a high collar, and a jacket of the same blue colouring that had a tailed back, the shoulders decorated with three silver pins shaped like triangles on his right shoulder that indicated his rank of Captain. The red sash around his waist indicated which command he fell under. Red indicated he was under the command of Highlord Vashir, ruler of Solaris. The Highlords of other nations were represented by different coloured sashes. Everyone in this camp served Highlord Vashir. This entire regiment had been out here holding off rebel armies for months now. Of some 5’000 men there, Nazir was responsible for a company of 140 men. However, now the camp was relaxing after a long battle. The air was thick with the scent of burning wood, cooked meat, and a variety of fragrant spices. Soldiers were sitting around campfires singing and telling each other stories while they ate and drank, and for a time forgot about the struggles of warfare. Nazir walked towards a fire where three other people sat. One of them waved at him and he nodded back, coming over to sit on a large log that had been placed by the fire as a makeshift bench. “Naz!” exclaimed the only female in the group. She stood up from her own log, standing only an inch or two shorter than Nazir. Her hair and eyes were dark like his, almost all Solari had dark hair, dark eyes and dark skin. Her hair was cut short, however, and generally there was little to indicate she was female at all. She wore her uniform jacket unbuttoned with a simple white shirt underneath. She had grabbed a bowl filled with rice and had began ladling a rich, orange coloured curry out of the pot placed over the fire. She handed it to Nazir with a spoon and sat back down. “Finished berating the new recruits?” She asked with a sly grin. “They needed it.” Nazir replied with a soft smirk, “Is it just me or do they get greener every year?” “More like you become more of a hard-ass every year!” She said with a chuckle. “You going soft on me, Rizen?” Nazir replied in a playful tone. “No, sir.” Rizen said with a cocky grin and she tapped her index finger against her forehead in salute. Nazir took a bite of his food. The curry was delicious. Hot and spicy just how he liked it. Rizen paused to eat her own meal along with her two companions. To her left was the shortest and thinnest of the group, he had shoulder length hair that was thick with natural curls, and his uniform was disheveled and sloppier than the other’s. To Rizen’s right was a giant of a man who looked about half a foot taller than Nazir, and about twice as broad. His hair was cut short and he had long sideburns, the closest anyone could have to a beard while serving in the military. “So, Cap, I was thinkin’…” The short man, Leven said. “Hah! Is good joke, Leven.” The large man, Biran replied with a deep, jolly voice, “A tiny man like you has no space for brain.” The group chuckled along with him. Biran had always spoken in broken Ishaaran, he’d lived in the Erduk mountains for most of his life and had never picked up the common tongue. Solari had over 32 different languages dating back from when they were scattered in to tribes, although everyone spoke Ishaaran these days. “Oh, there’s plenty of room in here,” Leven said as he poked the side of his head with his finger, “See not everyone fills the space with rocks like you do, big guy.” “If you are thinking about anything, is probably about chasing skirt.” Biran said with a soft shake of his head. “I resent that, I’ll have you know I’m a gentleman, I am.” Leven replied, holding his hand to his chest, “The ladies, they’ll tell ya. They’ll say ‘Biran, your wonderful friend Leven is the handsomest, most charming, most intelligent and thoughtful man I know, he is. An’ he’d have bed all of us if it were up to us, but no…he wouldn’t allow it because he’s a gentleman, see?” “On behalf of my gender may I just say…” Rizen started, and then she followed up with a retching noise that got another round of laughter from the group. “You are very strange little man.” Biran replied, shaking his head again but smiling, “spirits protect any woman who ends up with you.” “Spirits?” Leven asked, “Now that’s a fine idea, I’ll get myself a little spirit chum to give me some sorcery and then no woman will ever be able to resist me. ‘Leven’ they’ll say, ‘I see that you are handsome and incredibly smart, but I also see you can fly! I shall have to kiss you now!’ an’ that’s how The Great Leven ends up marryin’ Highlord Vashir’s daughter.” “Highlord Vashir doesn’t have a daughter, you idiot.” Rizen said, rolling her eyes. She turned to Nazir who was quietly listening to his friends and eating his food. “You’re quiet tonight, Naz.” She said with a frown, “Everything alright?” “I’m fine, just enjoying listening to you three run your mouths.” Nazir explained. It was a true statement. These three people, his old squad mates, his Lieutenants, they were the only real family he had. Each of them shared the same surname – Szash. It was the name given to those who had given up their citizenship and become slaves. Of course, they were all soldiers now. They were well-trained, they were given purpose, a bed to sleep in, regular meals and clothing on their backs. Their pay went towards paying off their slave debt. For a slave the army was the best place to be. Each of them had a tattoo behind their ear that could only be seen if you pulled the earlobe back, a small glyph that branded them as slaves. If they ever paid off their debt, which few ever did, then they would be allowed to have it covered up with another glyph that confirmed their freedom. Strangely, the thought had never crossed Nazir’s mind. He had everything he needed here. He had his friends, he had his company of soldiers to look after, and he had an enemy to face. He smiled as he looked up at the stars above, they were beautiful out here in the desert. As a slave he was sure that this would likely never end for him, and he didn’t really want it to. Yet it had. Had it? He frowned at himself. Why had he thought that? He was here, now, living this life. How could he think it had ended? “Naz?” He looked up to see that Rizen was watching him. Leven and Biran had also stopped what they were doing and turned their gaze on him. They were smiling softly, but they weren’t saying anything. “What’s going on?” Nazir asked, frowning. “Come on, Naz…” Rizen said softly, and her eyebrow quirked. “This isn’t healthy.” “What isn’t healthy?” Nazir asked, and he shifted uncomfortably. Why were they being so strange? “This thing…” Biran gestured around him, “Is not real, Nazir.” “Not…” Nazir felt confused. Of course, this was real. He was here in the warcamp, eating with his friend as he always did after a battle. “Quit fooling around, guys.” “Cap’n…” Leven smiled brightly at him, but his eyes looked pained, “You need to wake up.” “What?” Nazir shook his head. He stood up, suddenly feeling uncomfortable standing still. He needed to move. He felt an uncontrollable urge to run away. As he stood up the wind suddenly picked up, becoming violent tremendously quickly. His friends just kept watching him, and he winced as the wind hammered into him. He turned to run, but when he turned around the warcamp he had walked through was not there. He was stood in blackness. No. He was floating. He could feel the wind raging around him, feel himself moving with it, flying through the endless blackness. Yet he was not alone. In front of him was a creature. She was as tall as him and was only vaguely like a human. Her body had feminine curves, but her chest was flat and featureless. She wore no clothes to speak of, but she was almost entirely covered in black, downy feathers, like a bird. The skin exposed at her midriff and on her face was dark like his, but her eyes were entirely black with yellow pupils. Instead of hair she had a crest of large, semiplume feathers that pointed backwards at an angle. Instead of arms she had a pair of brilliant, dark wings that stretched out on either side of her, and her legs ended in a pair of sharp, black talons that looked like they could cut through steel. Those piercing yellow eyes were locked with his, and the creature seemed to stare deep within his very soul. He felt like he could not hide anything from her, whether he liked it or not. In return he could sense her thoughts and feelings as well. She was a violent, dangerous creature. Proud, powerful and unyielding. “They are gone.” The spirit said to him, her voice feminine but firm and confident. Memories flashed through his mind; a great battle. It had gone wrong. There was just too many of them, they were surrounded. So much screaming, so much blood. Ruthless violence. No! He pushed the memories away, locking them up inside his mind once more. He could not face them, not yet. They would destroy him. “They are gone!” The spirit said more forcefully this time, her eyes narrowing as her expression became a slight frown. “I know that…” Nazir whispered, his hands balled in to tight fists at his side. “I am…just dreaming.” “Must you always dream of ghosts?” The spirit asked. That was right. They were dead, all of them. Biran, Levan, Rizen…and the other 140 men and women under his command. Every single one of them gone…except for him. He cursed himself. Why had he lived? He had failed them all. Why did he have to live with that? His gaze fixed on the spirit again and his eyes burned with anger. She was the reason. She had saved him. “You are not the man I saw on that day.” The spirit said, “…I want that man. The man who lived for the fight. The man who was one with his spear. The man who fought so well that he impressed the winds and rattled the rains…the man who shook the skies with thunder. I want that man.” “That man is dead.” Nazir replied quietly. “That man stands before me!” The spirit snapped at him, her eyes blazing with fury. “You are not dead, Nazir. Only your comrades are.” “It should have been me.” Nazir replied, “I dishonored them by letting them die.” “Then honor them by living!” The spirit’s voice boomed like a thunder clap and he felt the air rattle and shake around him. --- --- --- --- Nazir shot up in the modest bed he was sleeping on and gasped for air. His shoulder-length hair hung loose, and his body was coated in a thin layer of cold sweat. He was in a room made of cold, grey stone. The roof overhead was thatched and the ground beneath him was wooden. He threw off the thick fur blankets over him and immediately felt a chill in the air. Something squawked to the right of him and he turned to see a large bird, a black hawk with golden eyes and a large crest. “Shrike…” He said as his memory of where he was came to him. The disorientation from the dream faded quickly. He began to feel alert quite quickly, old soldier reflexes kicking in. He got up from the bed and began to quickly get dressed, feeling the cold snap in the air. This blasted country was far too cold all the time. The room he had been staying in had a mirror and he examined himself. His body was covered in old scars but was otherwise fit, with lean muscles and no fresh wounds. Across his back was a large tattoo, three glyph tattoos stylized in to one large design, a maze of symmetrical lines that spelled three names; Rizen, Biran, Levan. Even in death he had ensured they would always be behind him. “Are you well?” The voice was in his mind, but it was a familiar one, and he turned to the large bird that was perched on the back of a chair in the room, as it was the source of the voice. “I’m fine.” Nazir said to the bird, Shrike. “I don’t appreciate you invading my dreams like that though.” “Well I don’t appreciate you moping around like a gloomy, lost puppy.” Shrike replied. “I do not.” Nazir replied testily. Shrike said nothing in response and he got the distinct impression that the conversation was over. He spent some time readying himself, he washed and shaved and got dressed. He emerged from the room dressed in black boots, black trousers, a black, studded leather jacket with a collar of white fur and a pair of matching gloves. Around his waist was a black sash with a gold trim, and he wore a leather pauldron on his right arm that had a symbol emblazoned in gold. It showed a large eye, but within the pupil was a five-pointed star. It was a symbol known as God’s Eye, and all who saw it knew it as the symbol of the Sorceri – agents of the Ascendant Emperor. The room led to a short hall which Nazir followed and then descended the steps to the ground floor of the inn. This early in the morning the place was quite empty, but a man was stood behind the bar moving large barrels of ale while a woman cleaned glasses nearby. They were both a lot shorter than him, in fact Nazir was so tall he had to be careful of the ceilings here. The man was about half a foot shorter than him and the woman was more than a foot shorter. They were speaking to each other in a language he didn’t understand, whatever their native tongue was. When the woman noticed Nazir, she eyed her husband and he turned to face Nazir as well. “Captain.” He said in Ishaaran. “Up early I see.” “Yes. I’m an early riser, always have been.” Nazir replied, his tone measured and polite. He could see the apprehensive look in their eyes, the hesitation and mistrust. He wasn’t sure if it was because of his skin colour or because of the symbol he wore on his right shoulder. Not that he would blame them for either one. They were Valkyr, natives of Valkheim, the bitterly cold northern land that he was currently residing in. They had only joined the empire about 200 years ago, and they had not done so all that willingly. When the Valkyr clans had united to stand against the empire, they had repaid them in kind. The full force of the empire’s military had been sent to crush the opposition, and the overwhelming majority of Ishaaran soldiers were Nazir’s people, Solari. This had created no small amount of tension between the two nations. Nazir had been travelling across the country for 2 weeks now and he had been met generally with suspicion at best and honest derision at worst. Then there was the fact that he was Sorceri, and that title seemed to make everyone nervous. It was a unique role. While Nazir was still a Captain of the Ishaaran military he had been given special privileges by being enlisted in to the private army of the Sorceri, represented by the black and gold sash he wore. The Sorceri were not seen to have rank or title above that of what they already held in their previous life, however the entire imperial citizenry knew not to disrupt their affairs. Even Highlords were not allowed to get in their way. Nor did anyone have to help them either, however. The general rule of thumb when a Sorceri walked through town was to keep out of their way. Hard to do when the Sorceri was a guest in your inn, however. “I won’t keep you much longer. I need some directions if you don’t mind.” As he finished speaking Shrike descended from the top floor, her wings beating as she perched herself on Nazir’s shoulder. “Lady spirit.” The innkeeper’s wife said with a reverent nod towards Shrike. The Valkyr seemed to have a highly respectful attitude towards spirits, even if they were bonded with someone they didn’t like apparently. Shrike let out a little squawk in reply. He received no response from the innkeeper. Had they just been distracted by Shrike’s arrival? Or were they just looking for a reason not to help him. “This village and the neighboring ones have been having some trouble lately, right?” Nazir asked. The two looked at each other nervously and then back at him. “Trouble? No trouble I can think of.” The innkeeper replied gruffly, “Nothing we can’t take care of on our own anyway.” “Farm animals disappearing, showing up dead out in the wilds.” Nazir began the list that had been reported to him, “Rivers drying up. Crops dying. Meat rotting quickly. All signs of malevolence.” Malevolence was the term used to describe acts of magic, unnatural sorcery brought about by corrupted spirits known as demons. It was these sorts of incidents that Nazir was supposed to deal with. The innkeeper and his wife seemed to get a little paler, which Nazir hadn’t thought possible before. Yet the innkeeper’s expression turned to a deep frown. “We’ve had some bad luck, nothing to be worried about here.” He said testily. “Normally I would agree. The empire doesn’t send Sorceri out this far to deal with this kind of hardship. It takes over a month to get here from Radiance. You know that if I have been sent then the Sorcerium has received reports of something far worse.” Nazir met the innkeeper’s eyes and he saw anger burning in them, the man did not want to help him. Yet he also saw pain in those eyes. “Children have disappeared. Boys and girls, all of them under 10 years old.” “How did-“ The innkeeper started but his lips tightened into a thin line. He could see the cogs whirring. The Valkyr were a loyal people, and they were not fond of foreigners or outside intervention. As far as he had been informed the Valkyr preferred to handle their own problems, and so for the Sorceri to have had this information reach them meant that one of their own had called for them. These villages were far from the major towns and cities where the Highlord and those loyal to the empire resided. This was well and truly the territory of rebellious clans who wished for their old ways to return. “Please.” Nazir said, “The sooner I deal with this the sooner your people will be rid of me.” He had no desire to stick around in Valkheim. He found it far too cold and he felt most unwelcome here. He had thought he might have found something in common with a nation of warriors, but so far, he hadn’t been able to find any common ground. “Go east towards the lake.” The innkeeper’s wife said, and her husband gave her a fierce look, but she scoffed at him, “Oh stop it! This has gone on long enough! If I see another child disappear from this village I don’t think I can take it.” “But-“ “Stop being so stubborn!” The woman said, and she pushed her husband aside and walked up to Nazir until she was only a foot away from him, she had to crane her neck to look him in the eye. “Solari aren’t a welcome sight here, especially one of you Sorceri lot. I’ll bet a lot of folks won’t have said it to your face because they don’t respect you enough. Truth be told I don’t like you either…but I won’t let another child suffer for that.” “Thank you.” Nazir said with a nod of respect. “What is at the lake?” “A vengeful spirit!” The woman said, “I’ve seen it myself when I’ve been out hunting. A terrifying creature indeed. That must be the cause of it…I felt its murderous intent. I was lucky to get back here with my life, I think.” “…And this was recent?” Nazir asked. “A week ago, or so. In the forest by the lake.” The woman replied “Then I’ll start my search there.” Nazir said, and he nodded to her in thanks. “Don’t bother coming back here!” The innkeeper said. “I won’t but not because you demanded it.” Nazir replied as he made his way for the door, “I see it’s the women that are in charge around here.” Then he opened the door and left. Outside the village was quiet in the early morning. The sky above was overcast and a thin mist stretched out over the cold tundra. A few faces were beginning to emerge from the houses as workers with an early start began to get ready. Nazir went to the small stable beside the inn and found a large armored beast waiting for him. The Koth had a thick layer of tough skin and had a bulky, muscular frame, with thick legs and powerful hooves. Its eyes were dark, and it had wide nostrils and it had a large, curved horn jutting out from the end of its snout. Despite their imposing frames Koth were gentle herbivores and could move surprisingly quickly. The beast was already saddled, and Nazir’s equipment and luggage were attached to either side of it in large saddle bags. He climbed up on top of the koth and it made a soft chuffing noise. “A vengeful spirit.” Shrike’s voice said in his mind, “Perhaps a chance for a real fight.” “You lead the way.” Nazir said, and Shrike let out a piercing shriek and tore off into the sky. Nazir patted the koth’s hide and grabbed hold of the reigns, and the based burst into motion, sprinting out of the stable and along the short path of the village, before tearing off into the flat tundra heading east, following Shrike as she flew in the sky overhead. “The air is so cool here…the winds are strong too. I really like it, Nazir.” Shrike’s voice echoed in his mind. “Well consider yourself the only one…” Nazir muttered back, and he silently stared ahead as they sped towards their destination.