Story — (SG) Prologue

She glanced back to the house, ensuring there were no witnesses. There was nothing wrong with what she was doing, of course. She was only breaking one small rule. Satisfied that she was undiscovered, she laid back down on the grass behind the precisely trimmed hedges.

Esmina held the little device up to her eye again, looking up at Eranos. The sister-planet currently blocked the sun, as it always did this time of day. It was a period of false night; the Shadow it was called. As dangerous as the genuine dark, if Aenias custom was to be believed. Naturally, all that was foolish nonsense. She came outside during as many Shadows as she could get away with.

The planet’s surface was difficult to make out in the dark, but that didn’t mean much, thanks to her clever new invention. With just a few shaped lenses, she could make out the planet with far more detail than before, even in the dark. She could differentiate between the land masses and the oceans, and if she was lucky, she might be able to see some tiny pinpricks of light, like yesterday. Faint stars twinkling on the planet’s surface. What could it mean? Fire, probably. Eranos probably had forests just like Asamos did. With as faint as those lights were, however, forest fires must not last long, if that’s what the source of the light was.

But she was not so lucky, as there were no such lights today. Disappointing, but she wouldn’t let her precious moments go to waste. Instead, she tried to spot any distinctions that were less prevalent when the sun shone on its surface. It did seem to have thicker clouds during its night time, but she hadn’t studied that particular subject long enough to come to any firm conclusion.

Soon the sun started to peek out from behind the sister-planet, signalling an end to the Shadow as the world was bathed in light once more. As it did, however, she caught movement in the sky. Something small. An insect, perhaps.

But no, her eyes spied a small dot in the sky. Something that didn’t move. She used the device to get a better look. A spyglass, she thought. That would be an appropriate name.

It was difficult to make out, especially with the sun so near, but the object she found looked fixated, much like Eranos. It was circular, as well. What could that be?

She tried to find it again without the help of her invention. At this point, however, the sun was too close, and she couldn’t make it out. It would have to wait for tomorrow.

With the Shadow being over, it was no longer taboo to be outside, but it would be suspicious if she returned to the house at this moment, so she would still have to sneak in. And now would be especially risky because anyone could walk outside and find her here.

With a slow exhale she got up from the ground and into a crouching position. Moving around in the dresses her father recently began forcing her to wear was troublesome, since it was more difficult to be quiet, but she was getting used to it as the days passed. She bunched up much of the excess cloth from her legs and held it in the hand carrying the spyglass. Then, peeking over the hedges, checked to make sure nobody was watching. As soon as she deemed it safe, she turned towards the path and hustled towards the manor.

And bumped into somebody the moment she rounded the corner.

“Oh, my!” Gaelin breathed, shielding his eyes. “My sincerest apologies, miss.”

“Gaelin! What are you doing here?” she hissed in a hushed tone.

The ashen skinned Tenshari stood with his left hand completely covering his eyes. His servant’s garb was kept nicer than most, and his right arm was completely bandaged in typical Tenshari fashion. “Looking for you, I’m afraid. It appears we must discuss your disregard for customs.” Peeking an eye to look down on her through his fingers, he soon turned around to face away from her. “Including your decency. Do cover your legs, miss.”

Esmina dropped the bunch of cloth to let the dress fall once more, and her face reddened despite herself. “I don’t know why you’re being so weird. You’ve bathed me hundreds of times.”

After a quick glance to make sure she was proper, he faced her once more. “I may have bathed a child hundreds of times, but you are no longer a child. Surely your father has made you aware of this.”

She scowled. “Don’t remind me.”

“Besides, if your father hears any rumors of his daughter and Tenshari servant being outside together in the garden during the Shadow, I fear banishment would be the least of our concerns.”

“Wha—but I didn’t even know you were out here!”

Suddenly panicked, he put a finger to his mouth to quiet her. “The truth hardly matters where gossip can breed, miss. Now please, go inside before we are both punished.”

She glanced up at the sister-planet. Was that tiny speck still there? There would be time to think on it later, but for now Gaelin was right. She shuddered to think what her father would do if some absurd rumor got out. Best to avoid trouble if she could. “We’ll talk later, Gaelin. I have some things I’d like to share with you, when we have time.”

Gaelin smiled. “I’d love to hear it.”

With that, she hurried back to the manor, eased open the door, and closed it behind her without a sound.

Story — My Superpower

“If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” We’re asked this question often enough to merit a prepared response. The same sort of preparation that goes with “What would you do with a million dollars?” or “What’s your favorite color?”

I’m not one for open ended questions like that. I tell people my favorite color is blue. But sometimes, it’s green. It depends on the shade and the context. I like forest green, but if we’re painting the walls or the cars with it, I’d rather use something more plain. There are pros and cons to everything. I love different movies for opposing reasons. I can’t compare the two because there are too many factors to consider.

But when I’m asked what my preferred superpower is, I smile to myself. I smile because the thing I would choose is something I already have. It isn’t unique. There aren’t any superheroes featured on the front cover of any comic books for this ability. It isn’t anything as ‘Flashy’ as super speed or as ‘Mystical’ as shape-shifting.

In fact nearly everyone I know has it. It’s the ability to write.

Writing is so much more than putting words on a page. It’s magic. Crafting worlds and creating living, breathing people with full lives and histories. It’s also telepathy. I can craft any world, and person, and any idea, and implant it from my brain to yours. This telepathy transcends all physical boundaries. Even time.

Think about it. Every word you have ever read was written in the past. It may not be as dramatic as Shakespeare or Plato speaking to their readers hundreds or even thousands of years in the future. If we think of time as distance, everything lines up. Very few things have survived the journey of thousands of years past, but what little we do have allows us to see what life was like back then, almost as if we’re looking back on another world through a telescope.

It’s also incredibly complex. Minute differences lead to drastic changes in the message. If you consider all of the paganistic rituals (mostly in the fiction I’ve read or watched, probably,) then everything has to be absolutely perfect. If you draw a circle with that chalk, you better make sure that that circle is flawless because if it isn’t, you’re not going to summon that genie or demon.

It’s the same thing with words. Not only are the specific keystrokes important, but the size is, as well. A missing line and a ‘T’ becomes an ‘l’. If your circle isn’t full, your ‘o’ might become an ‘e’. InCreaSing the SiZe Of SOme letterS ChangeS even slightly makes everything look wrong, even though the way the letters are shaped isn’t affected.

And then, when one chooses to be a writer, one must look deeper. Simple word accuracy is no longer enough. You have to find the right words in the perfect context and, when necessary, apply the appropriate typeface. You have to carefully structure your sentences to convey proper pacing. Otherwise, they’re abrupt. Sporadic. Scatterbrained, even.

One must learn all these things to master the art. It may not be a superpower to some, but with practice, one can transcend time and space itself.

Story — The Hands of Aeneus Pt. 1

Under the table, Varra clenched her fists in annoyance. It was like talking to a brick wall. “Look, I’m not saying we give the people free roam of the city. I realize nobody in Upper Terrace would agree to that. But we have to do something. We need a more defensive presence in the primary city.”

“No, we don’t. We’ve done it this way for hundreds of years. Trust me, it has always worked. No substantial threats have come to the kingdom, so there is no reason to change things.”

She looked down into the courtyard of the palace, and the stone, spear shaped obelisk in the center. The single most dangerous object in Tebrein. Right in the center of the capital. And the only people who knew what it was capable of were the Hands of Aeneus and their seconds.

“I realize this is a lot to take in,” Elodrus explained, grabbing his wine glass as a Tenshari servant refilled it in passing. “But what you’re proposing would be a tactical blunder. If we pull troops from Lower Terrace into the inner city, people will ask questions. We can’t tell them honestly why we would make such a seemingly useless decision, and it will draw attention to the wrong places.”

“But what if the Spear Gate activates and we are invaded from the inside?”

Elodrus shook his head. “There is no need for concern, darling. The Gate has been dormant for decades. In fact, I hadn’t been the appointed Hand of Ceremony for three weeks before it opened.”

She tensed at that. “So what’s stopping it from opening again, now that I’m a newly appointed Hand?!”

“Relax, relax,” he soothed, gesturing for her to sit back down as he lowered his voice. “The answer is nothing, but as I’ve said, there’s no reason to believe it will open any time soon, either. Do sit down, you don’t want to draw attention.”

Varra glanced about the scarcely populated dining hall as she sat back down. It was more of an immense open corridor, really. She had often eaten here as a child, but knowing what that obelisk was now changed everything. It made her feel vulnerable. As if it was staring at her. Tasting her fear.

“I admit that I’ve lost sleep since I’ve relocated to my new chambers in the palace. It is customary that a Hand’s bedroom has a window facing the Spear Gate, but I find it unnerving. I’ve had the servants cover the window, but it stares at me just the same.”

“It does have that effect on people,” Elodrus nodded. “And, allow me to say that I do admire your willingness to take action. You are so like your mother in that regard. In many ways you’ve taken your duties in stride. I find that remarkable, but rest assured that everything we do is for a very good reason, and taking drastic measures out of fear is political suicide.”

“I’d much rather commit political suicide than tactical suicide,” she murmured. “We could have an entire army in the palace within minutes at any point in time and there would be nothing we could do. All five Hands and each of their seconds could have their throats slit during the night and then both Terrace and Tebrein would be left with no government. What good is my ‘willingness to take action’ as the Hand of Defense if I am not allowed to take defensive action?”

He took a long sip of wine before responding, frowning as he did. “Much of the things we do is directed by the experience we have. Your being appointed Hand is unprecedented because you are so young, and not even a groomed second. But desperate times call for desperate measures, Varra.  At twenty winters you are by far the youngest Hand to walk the palace grounds in at least a century. Worry not, however. The other Hands and I have discussed this, and we will be more than happy to shelter the burden of your office until you are old enough to really understand your duties.”

Story — The Third Era and Recent History

From the Writings of Lead Historian of Ancient Affairs, Toreshide, 52.4E

 

The Great Sundering that created the Xal Deer Sea brought a close to the Archon War. They were all in agreement that they had the power to change the world, and if they weren’t careful that power would tear it apart. Verik and Cedrine took much of the blame for all the lives lost in their act of retaliation, but rather than continue to wage war, the other Archons decided to forgive them and make things right by changing things for the better.

The Archon War’s official conclusion was the establishment of the Preservers, by Kitsuki’s suggestion. This organization would have international influence and would bow to no sovereign power. Their goal, as it remains to this day, is to collect and maintain all knowledge of the world in all forms. This means obtaining copies of every written work, and writing down our findings as well. The individual tasks of the Preservers has grown more complex over time, and a more detailed explanation is better suited elsewhere.

The Preservers was established, and the Archons also served as the original Keepers of their respective nations. As such, they served as both leaders of their nations and of the Preservers. Most Archons agreed that this should not always be the case, and succession for control of their governments and the seat of Keeper should diverge after their own lives were at an end. However, they could never agree on a rule of succession, so most nations adopted their own specific rules. Suffice it to say that this has been met with much controversy, and people both inside and outside the Preservers are often very opinionated towards how this should have been done or why things happened the way it did.

After the Archon War, the Archons collaborated on several large scale projects, most notably the Endless Halls in Kitsuya, where a vast majority of Preserver collected knowledge is stored. It is believed that Verik crafted The Archive at around this time, though he informed no soul of its existence, and the Preservers didn’t discover it until much later.

It is at this point that northern Torreth reaches a golden age. Many advancements regarding the use and application of magic are made, and this allows even the most arid regions of Ketha to be inhabited, as well as the unforgiving slopes of Aluvalia.

It is also at this time that the Archon Zephirine ventures (or returns, if some rumors are to be believed) to Koh Liia. This is the first verifiable incident in which a human has successfully returned from Ithalin or any other known or speculated landmass.

Due to the establishment of the Preservers early on, the events of the Third Era are so well documented that picking and choosing which are most significant are always up for debate. As such, it would be better to briefly describe how things changed over the centuries rather than describe specific events.

Contrary to popular belief, the Archons did not live particularly long lives, save for Zephirine and Kitsuki. If anything, their lives ran shorter than average due to the wounds sustained in their battles and the stress their positions caused. Most died of old age.

Initially, the Preservers had a difficult time enforcing their power beyond the reach of nations. It has never been the charge of the organization to deal with politics in any light other than our own internal affairs, but the first three hundred years of this proved difficult for both sides. There were many that thought the Preservers and the national governments should work in tandem, and some that believed the two should be entirely separate. In time, separation won favor, and it has been that way ever since.

The middle of the Third Era is widely regarded as the most fruitful and peaceful time in all of history. Border disputes were few and far between, and even when they were brought up they were solved peacefully. Armies became useless, and as such much of the magic users that were not affiliated with the Preservers opened schools to formally teach others.

This allowed for the growth of even more knowledge, and a few centuries later, steam-powered energy became very popular, birthing a revitalized interest in the advancement of technology rather than a prioritization in magic. Calitha turned to steam as their main source of energy, and they became the leading nation in commerce. Nations like Ketha have followed behind, while some have been more resistant to change, but overall trade between nations grew much easier.

This golden age continued until recent memory, when the Rupture occurred. This has been chronicled as the beginning of the Fourth Era, of which this has been written in the fifty-second year. There is still little that is known about the event, only that it originated in Veritia. The explosion wiped out the entire nation and left a rift in the night sky, and it seems to have influenced the way flora and fauna interact with magic. This, in general, made the use of magic far more dangerous, and has necessitated the need for a new defense force that does not utilize magic.

This was the reason for the formation of the Riftguard, a non-research oriented branch of the Preservers, forty-three years ago. They are devoted to the protection of the realm against both magical and non-magical threats. A smaller division of the Preservers has also recently been established to investigate the Rupture, it’s cause, and it’s consequences.

While little may currently be known about the drastic changes in our world and environment, it is imperative that this is knowledge the Preservers discover quickly, for the safety of both Torreth and Nacre Then as a whole.

Story — The Archon War (420)

From the writings of Lead Historian of Ancient Affairs, Toreshide, 52.4E

 

After the Treaty of Eight was signed, the continent of Torreth was split into two designated halves. The southern half was the remaining portion of the Autlan Empire, and with the decline in its power and size came a sudden and huge influx to the northern reaches, much of which was previously considered uninhabitable until the rediscovery of magic.

But there was no solace to be had there. The signing of the Treaty of Eight gave way for the most violent decade in all of recorded history: the Archon War. The purpose of the Treaty was to settle land claims for the Autlan Empire, but gave no such distinction for the nations of magic and their godlike leaders. (This was one of the reasons it was signed so shortly after it was originally drafted.)

Each of the Archons, with the exception of Kitsuki, believed themselves to be the most powerful, wise, and capable leader. Some wished to unify the magical nations of Torreth, while others wanted to be the sole leader. They birthed the seven distinct Sources of magic, but they specifically bear little historical significance and as such will not be discussed here.

Since there was no agreement to be had, they waged war with one another, largely over land disputes. (It was at this time that Kitsuki declared her distaste for war and claimed the north-eastern islands as her own.) They fought with the fury of hurricanes and tornadoes. The Archons, it is said, were forces of nature in their own right, and the only thing that could stand up to one was another Archon. This time of conflict at an individual level is referred to in Preserver documents as “Phase One”. Phase One did little to settle land disputes, however. Calitha, for example, would lose a battle to Verik, and then continue taking his land from under his nose anyway through cunning and trickery.

For this reason, the Archons started forming alliances with one another, with two general goals. Calitha, Zephirine, and Keht forged their alliance with the objective of unifying Torreth and bringing the magic realm into a golden age with which it could expand both geographically and scientifically. This was contrasted by the alliance of Verik, Cedrine, and Aluvair, who believed that the seven nations should remain separate, and that individuality and adversity was key to advancement. This is referred to as “Phase Two” of the Archon War, and it was relatively less destructive than Phase One as it lead to many civil discussions between the seven Archons. Kitsuki, in all of these discussions, remained neutral. It is possible that she first proposed the formation of the Preservers in one of these meetings.

Phase Two did not last long. It isn’t entirely known what started the birth of Phase Three, the final phase of the Archon War. It is speculated that Calitha had secretly been teaching others how to use her magic, which was an action that was openly scorned by the Archons. Many Preservers speculate that Keht somehow betrayed the trust of the civil meetings, or that Zephirine was selling secrets to the Koh Liir race on the distant continent of Ithalin in order to gain their favor. There is undeniable significance that all of these rumors put the “unification” side of the Archons in a bad light, but there is little that can be concluded from this.

Phase Three began as the Archons started bringing up disciples of their magics. As magic is pulled from one specific source, teaching more people one type of magic makes each individual’s ability to use it more diluted, and thus this weakened the Archon’s direct power, but on a large scale, having armies that could utilize magic was a significant boon. Battles sprouted like wildfire across the landscape. With Calitha’s exceptional tactical prowess and large army, combined with Zephirine’s ability to manipulate the weather on a continental scale, the war suddenly looked very grim for Verik, Cedrine, and Aluvair. Their position was strongest during Phase One, where their magic allowed them to become unstoppable, but the tables had turned, and if they couldn’t find a way to tip the scales, surrender would soon be the only option.

Their response was a single retaliation on such a massive scale that much of northern Torreth was destroyed, sinking below sea level and creating the Xal Deer Sea. This blow killed thousands upon thousands of people, and is called The Great Sundering by many. This event forced the Archons to rethink their own power, as it had never been used on such a cataclysmic level. This effectively ended the Archon War, as each nation and Archon decided that war was not the answer.

Prompt — Aenendium

“But here’s the kicker,” Lex continued, a wide grin on his face. “When she told him that they were over, you know what he said?”

“No, what?”

“He said ‘Yeah, and so are all your other relationships.’ And then he showed her the Voice he had taken from the night before. He called every other guy she was cheating on him with that morning.” By the time Lex had finished his story, he had already brought himself to tears with laughter.

Despite herself, Neda smiled. “That’s pretty devious of him.”

He wiped away the last of his tears. “Sometimes I’m jealous of how awesome my brother is.”

“And how every relationship he’s in seems to fail within a few months?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Well, maybe not that part. But at least it doesn’t bother him. Plus he gets so many good stories out of it!”

“Alright,” Neda said, setting a serious tone. “We’re here, and you need to focus.”

Lex frowned at the huge, boulder-like object before them. “Why do I need to focus? Your Scanner is going to be doing all the work.”

“Hardly,” she replied. “Tink can only examine the contents and pack it away.”

“You really named it?”

“Sure. Every Scanner has personality. Tink’s front camera is busted, so he doesn’t know when to start scanning until he actually hits the target. You’ll see. But there’s a procedure to mining. First, examine the object.”

Lex rolled his eyes. What a waste of time. “It’s a big rock that’s dark and gray.”

“That’s unusual. Most of the iron in the Needled Flats is red from oxidization. What does that tell you?”

“That we should have ‘Tink’ scan it because it can actually tell us what it’s made of.”

“You’ll never be a miner if you want to have robots do all the work. You have to look at it and know whether or not it’s worth your time before you even scan it. What if it’s just a giant chunk of iron coated in some other material?”

“How many times do I have to tell you people I don’t want to be a miner?!” Lex looked exasperated, using wide hand gestures to help convey his annoyance.

“Not my problem,” Neda shrugged. “Your mother asked me to take you, and I’ll be damned if I don’t take you back without teaching you something worthwhile. Now tell me. What else is interesting about this boulder?”

“It’s sharp. Unusually sharp. The high winds in the Needled Flats erodes the spires and makes them smooth, so even if this was a piece of one it shouldn’t be sharp.”

“And?”

“And it’s all alone. There’s no spire nearby for this to have broken off from.”

“So, what’s the diagnosis?”

“It’s out of place. It might still be iron, like you said, but it doesn’t look quite right. It does look like it’s been here a while, but it seems to have been placed here deliberately.”

Neda nodded, showing some approval for once. “Good! Is it worth a scan?”

“If I say no, can we go home?”

“The sooner you answer my questions correctly, the sooner we can go home.”

“Then yes, it’s worth a scan.”

Neda crouched down to the little rover and activated its scanning mechanism. The robot perked up almost like a small animal being roused from it’s sleep. It started rolling forward towards the boulder, submerging slightly in the small puddles.

It didn’t stop once it got close enough to scan. Instead, the robot bumped against the rock with a soft ‘tink!’, to which Neda glanced at Lex and winked. Backing up, Tink started scanning the boulder, shining a bright, horizontal light against its surface that spanned up and down with a soft buzz.

After a moment, the light cut out, and Neda jogged over to the robot and looked at the screen to examine the results.

“Gods above,” she murmured.

“What does it say?” Lex asked, following behind.

“Ninety-six percent Aenendium,” she said.

“Aenendium?”

“The strangest metal ever discovered. It is only found on Asamos in extremely rare circumstances, and doesn’t fit on the Periodic Table. Our scientists have never been able to manufacture it.”

“What does that mean?”

“With a deposit this massive,” she pondered. “We could change the world. It would destroy the economy.”

Lex frowned. “So what do we do?”

Neda pulled out her Voice and began tapping numbers into it. “I don’t know. This is big. I have to call my administrator.”

It didn’t seem as though Lex would be going home any time soon. But somehow, that was okay with him.

 

Prompt:iron_sea_kuldar_leement_by_kuldarleement-dbbn3l4

Prompt — Stubborn Fire

It had been nine years since Abbo had been home. Even longer since his quiet, happy life in the sun. The Ten-Year Winter had taken everything. First the fun, then the crops, then his family when his mother pushed him out the door, baby sister in hand, to seek help. He had almost died getting to the nearest village. And his baby sister… Well, Ephane wasn’t so lucky. “Stubborn fire”, her name meant, after the flower that so rarely bloomed. The pain of her loss was still clear as the days he so missed.

But now, as he walked along the once dirt path outside the hovel, it was different. Of course, there was still snow. So much damned snow. A world bathed in white had gotten tiring years ago. But for once, it wasn’t all snow. There was tufts of grass peeking out, and long weeds that had grown out of some of the dilapidated walls. He remembered his mother waging a constant war with those weeds every summer. That constant plight now served as a promise that better days were to come.

Abbo walked alongside what used to be long fields of raftheads, his father’s prized crops. Fields that were now an enormous blanket. Fields that hadn’t yielded anything since he was a child.

The iron gate to the house still gave a familiar creak, and he was surprised it still worked. That hinge had always creaked, yet it had braved even the harshest of weathers. An abrupt snort at the irony escaped his nostrils, a visible puff blowing softly into the chilly twilight.

The house was just as he had remembered it: a tiny cottage with a taller roof than most. The door was swung wide open, which couldn’t have been a good sign. After a moment, however, he shook his head. There were no good signs to be had. If his parents had–by some miracle–survived, they wouldn’t be here. Nothing could have survived here for ten long years. Nothing save for the longroot trees, that is. They were all young, he knew. His father had burned all the wood they could find within the second year of the Winter. Like the weeds near the walls, the sight of the trees were both an offensive invasion and a welcome sight.

As he got closer, Abbo realized that the door to the house was not wide open. There simply was no door anymore. Had his parents taken it down and burned it in their desperation for warmth? How desperate would one have to be to willingly destroy the last flimsy shield against the freezing air?

He decided it was probably for the best that he didn’t enter the house. If his parents had stayed till the bitter end, it would be like defiling their grave. Beyond that, he couldn’t bear to see what state they might be in.

He had seen his fill. Reassured that his old home would return to normal along with the rest of the world in the wake of this nightmare, he set off to go back the way he had come.

A spot of orange against white caught Abbo’s eye on the way out. Crouching down, he found something he hadn’t seen in years. A small flower bud, shaped very much like a candle flame, flowed gently in the breeze. It stood defiantly against the snow around it. “Here I am”, it seemed to say. “The springs will come!”

Abbo all but fell to his knees before the stubborn fire. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had seen a warm color in the natural world. Yes, things would return to normal. This could be a proper home once more. Under a clear sky, it would be the ideal place for the perfect childhood.

Some day he would return with a daughter of his own. And he would name her Ephane.

 

Prompt:friday_morning_by_seven_teenth-dbahj8q