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Aether's Heart



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Mon Jul 01, 2019 8:05 am
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Omnom says...



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To the south of Synilas lies a kingdom of shifting sands in the center of a large continent. Once a great and powerful empire that was the center of a sprawling civilization that touched the very sun itself. One day, in the distant past, much of it disappeared into the sands, lost to the world forever.

That is, until now.

On the edge of the today's world, a giant chasm has opened into the sand. From that chasm, ancient warriors of sand and gold march out, under orders from a god-queen long dead.

Cities are rising from the dunes where there have been none for generations. People are mysteriously coming home after getting lost in the sands for decades.

At the center of all this is a standing prophecy from the god-queen, requiring her heart be returned to her.

Journey to the edge of the world, beneath stone and sand and magic, to find Aether's Heart.

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In the ancient prophecy, certain roles must play a part in recovering the Aether's Heart. Uncovered by ancient magical texts, these are the roles:

  • The Imbued - A teenager who knows nothing about dragons becomes imbued by a hatchling.
  • The Seer - Historian that cannot read regular texts; but can read magical texts imbued in between the lines.
  • The Shadow - A thief that can only walk through shadows.
  • The Spear - A ranger who doesn't use actual arrows, relying on the elements.
  • The Judge - A healer who can only heal by hurting others.
  • The Forsaken - A homeless, wandering paladin who is respected by nobody.


Spoiler! :
For help with Powers, visit the Magic Section of the Universe. What is the Universe?
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Aether's Heart is a part of The Universe, alternatively known as YWU, a collaborative writing universe


Spoiler! :
  • Synilas
    • The Harbor of Civilization
        Synilas is the economic center of the Universe, striving to create a thriving and diverse culture that melds multiple different races and factions together. They have created a harbor from harsh magics and easy starvation, holding a delicate balance between their struggling neighbor to the north, Asturia, and their power-hungry neighbors to the west, the Draconis Council.
    • Synua
        Synilas' Capitol, Synua, is located where a river pours into an ocean. It sits on high plains that cascade onto soft beaches, and it takes advantage of the lush amount of resources in its land. Many people of many different exotic and far away lands have flocked to Synua for safe haven and the opportunity to pursue their technology in a place safe from flagrant uses of destructive magic.
    • The Pillars of Strength
        Synua is surrounded by several large towers, called The Pillars of Strength. These Pillars of Strength each house a large Primal Crystal that attracts and stores magic. Magic within the city is hard to create, even by the most adept magicians. Because of this, Synua has become a haven for magic-protesters and nonbelievers. While no official law exists forbidding magic within Synua's walls, law enforcement within the city has been seen multiple times turning a blind eye as Idora, the city's mob, snuffs out magic users.
    • Idora Family
        Idora is Synua's ruling mob family, and the main rival to Astyr's mob family, the Adonis family, who are are frequent magic users. Many generations ago, the Idora Family was driven out of Asturia altogether by the Adonis family. They retreated to the safety of Synua's Pillars of Strength, where they rebuilt. They have fostered and cultivated the disdain and fear-mongering against magic users to create a iron grip on Synila's capitol city. Besides their insidious attitude against magic users, Idora have not made any other major moves or claims of power against the local government or Adonis.
    • Astyra-Synua River
        The Astyra-Synua River is the only river that spans through the continent and both Asturia and Synilas, being one of the only valuable resources that both countries rely on. It allows the cold climate and freshwater fish of the northern lake to run through it and provides a necessary connection to the ocean, where larger fishing ships hunt for giant saltwater fish and shellfish. The river also provides the most precious resource for desert-ridden Synalis: an abundant freshwater source. Rivers spreading from Draconis lake are saltwater. From the Astyra-Synua River, the capitol city of Synua houses an impressive network of aqueducts that spread water to its southern cities.
    • The border city of Nila
        The border city of Nila acts as both a trading post between the two countries and a first defense against any of the more hostile forces that wander in from the East, from unknown territories. Synilas has had a peaceful relationship with Asturia within the past few generations, as the larger country relies more and more on Synilas' bountiful and rare resources they collect from the deserts in the south. However, Nila stands as a monument to the battles of old, as ancient keeps stand still on the high cliffs overlooking the river and remnants of warships litter the deep. Although the keeps lay vacant, there are rumors that ghosts roam the halls, restless for the cries of another war.
    • The Draconis River Cities: Senah
        Senah is the second smallest, and is often marked as a stopping point to "The Blessed Lands" otherwise known as the Council Land. Centuries ago, Senah was one of many birthplaces of dragons, and the remains of their ivory nests are both a popular attraction with religious tourists and a source of income for the city. The Council has, for years, attempted to take control of Senah, but a recent support of national troops has kept Senah in control of the city. Currently, Senah is in lock-down, with protests from Blessed Followers causing agitation within the city. There are rumors that both The Council and Synilas are gearing up for a large scale conflict within the city, as it is too valuable to both countries to stay in either one.
    • The Draconis River Cities: Yse
        Yse is the largest of the River cities, and acts as a mining capitol for Synilas. The city itself is split in three tiers, all hanging haphazardly in between a cavern, split open centuries ago in a long forgotten war in a long forgotten past. In this cavern are numerous rare and valuable minerals. The three tiers are ruled by separate barons, each claiming themselves as the one true leader of Yse and the others as false nobles come to seek their riches. Synua lets them play their little game, as long as a sizable enough amount of exports head their way. Each tier has a different way of living, different cultures, and different poverty levels. Interaction between tiers are kept to a minimum, besides the occasional "Grand Rebellion" in which one baron attempts to seize power from another, while claiming no part with it and naming it as a simple rebellion.
    • The Draconis River Cities: Syna
        Syna is the second largest city, and holds a loose control over its smaller cousin, Nua Port, as a temporary local government over the port-town. Syna itself is a sanctuary of magic users as, a few years ago, they had a mass exodus from Synua to prevent prosecution and further death. As such, Syna represents a hopeful and oppressed side of Synilas that is often shoved under the rug. It was fashioned akin to ancient magical elven havens in a time period where a mass exodus happened to elves and magic users. Syna is unknown to The Council, and it is kept that way, as they would want to seek control of it immediately.
    • The Draconis River Cities: Nua Port
        Nua Port is the second port in Synilas, and the second largest port on the Draconis River. However, Nua Port has become a ghost town in recent years. No one really knows why, but Synua refuses to deal with it, instead forcing Syna to claim leadership over it, citing the latter city is far better suited as it is closest. A fraction of Nua's population remains, and recently people have been getting ill for an unknown reason. Ships have been told to redirect to Synua Port and steer away from Nua, but one ship remains...
    • Essa
        Essa sits on the edge of a small oasis to the south, overlooking a vast sea of sand, in the Mirasma Desert. Essa is no normal village, though. It acts as the last bastion for those willing to risk the ever-changing sand dunes for the thrill of adventure or treasure. It also acts as the last stopping point for Blessed Followers risking the much more dangerous trek to the southern edge of Draconis Lake, where it's rumored that dragons still nest. It also acts as the watchtower and first defense of Synilas from southern threats that citizens of Synilas in general are unaware of. No one lives in Essa by chance, and most are not what they seem.
  • Shurima
    • Forgotten Civilization of the Gods
        Shurima is the ancient civilization of the High Gods. Not much is known about it besides some forgotten, long thought mythological, texts mentioning how it spanned from ocean to ocean. It had fallen long ago, lost to the ever-changing sands, until recently.
    • The Hordes of Sand
        Faceless armies have appeared out of the sand in hordes, marching their way slowly to the edge of civilization. Scouts outside of Essa have already reported them in the hundreds marching to the Draconis mountains. So far, they have not attacked anyone when scouts have gone near. They seem to be of one mind, with one goal. What their goal is, no one knows.
    • Lost Cities
        Scouts of Essa, the Draconis River Cities, and The Council have all reported glittering cities on the horizon. Upon closer inspection, the cities disappear. It has become so commonplace that local citizens have created a name for them: Mirage Cities. They never stay in the same place, and cartographers who have been charting their locations, have noted them moving further and further inland.
    • Welcome Home, Stranger
        The Draconis River Cities have been reporting to Essa and Synua that relatives, thought long lost to the sand, have returned. The only problem? They haven't aged a day from the moment they disappeared into the sand dunes of Mirasma Desert, and there's something... off about them.
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Sat Jul 13, 2019 9:24 am
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Omnom says...



Railyn Yora



Railyn lifted his pickaxe and struck the soft rock again, moving to an internal rhythm he developed long ago. The heat from the mechanical contraption above him that was far too complicated for him to comprehend softened the rock enough for him to break through to the valuable minerals hidden within.

He paused a moment to wipe his brow. Where he got rid of sweat, grease and grime replaced it. It wasn't an ideal situation, but at least the latter didn't get into his eyes as often.

He heard the all-too-familiar "Back to work!" from the supervisor, and dipped his head in the customary Synilas response of acknowledgement to a superior. And there were so many superiors to Railyn in Yse, his hometown. In his eighteen years of life, he had never figured out how to rise through the ranks of the miner's guild, but he knew it was to buddy up to his leader, Baroness Guiless, a despicable woman who didn’t care too much for the people who built her empire for her. He wondered how the other barons were, but he suspected they were fairly much the same. He shook the thoughts out of his mind and set his pickaxe aside. He knelt down and brushed the broken rock and soot away with his gloves. The dark stone gave way to a glowing green mineral, and the sudden transition of light and color caused him to blink a few times to adjust. Even after years of working, he still had never gotten used to that, nor had that first initial sight never stopped amazing him. He gasped and carefully brushed away the debris around the mineral and gingerly picked it up.

Railyn stood up and whistled to the supervisor, who looked over and nodded. After a moment, a robotic flying contraption whizzed close to him, hovering and bumbling around him. Railyn stepped back instinctively, but the machine just flew closer. He still hadn’t gotten used to the new Hextech machines that came from Synua to dig even deeper into the Draconis mountains. He didn’t trust them, but work was work, and he was one of the lucky few to keep their jobs. He opened up a basket on the bottom of the flying machine, where a pillow rested, and set the mineral down. The machine dinged and chimed and a flurry of whistles above him roared and echoed through the mines to the upper levels. This was a decent day’s work, and if he was lucky, his supervisor would give him the rest of the day off to recover and recuperate.

Railyn doubted he would end up that lucky, but he had hope.

He took off his mining gloves, stuffing them in his pocket, and picked up his pickaxe. He mustered up as much charisma as he thought was possible, and swaggered his way to his supervisor, who had his back to Railyn.

Looking back at it, Railyn had hoped that the supervisor kept his back turned the entire time, because as soon as his supervisor turned to see him, Railyn tripped on a sharp rock that he didn’t notice, and fell, in what seemed to be such a slow amount of time in his mind, and all of his regrets came flooding to the forefront of his mind. While his mind was freaking out about the time he attempted to ask out a girl when he was ten by sending her friend a note, his body attempted to make up for his foolishness by holding his hands out to catch his fall. Unfortunately, they were his bare hands, and the rocks down in the Yse Mines were sharp, painful, and unforgiving to human hands. He landed on dirt, grime, and rock, splitting his palms open, and in the midst of the chaos, his mind blanked on all of his previous thoughts, and of all the places, went to that fateful night.

Streaks of sleek black hair and messy hair whizzed by as kids ran through the deep underbelly of Yse’s middle market.

They had done something they would for sure get reprimanded for if they were caught by the Baron Guards.

They snuck into a slim wedge between two buildings that was hidden from the street, a place that only they knew, and uncovered their faces, pure, adulterated childish grins on their faces.

They had taken something from the ines.

The one with the sleek black hair took off his cloak. He was taller than the messy haired boy, looked older, too. He had a blanket around something in his hands.

The younger one took off his cloak as well. He snuck in closer to the covered item, giddy from excitement.

“Let me see it!” He said, his voice high and boyish.

“Shhh! You’ll get us caught.” He warned, but his face betrayed his words, as it was just as excited as the other boy’s. He carefully unveiled a glowing emerald orb that was larger than his whole torso. It pulsed color and light in a slow and gentle rhythm, and when the younger boy hesitantly touched it, slight warmth emanated from it.

“It’s an egg,” the older boy whispered.


Dong.

Dong.

Dong.

Railyn’s vision slingshotted back to the present, where he face deep in gunk, and he groaned. He unsteadily stood, and brushed himself off. The supervisor glared at him with a mixture of disgust, annoyance, and was that a hint of worry? Oh, nope, it was humor, as he busted out laughing just a moment later. “Did, did you see yourself?” He mustered out between chuckles and intakes of air. “You just faceplanted in some runic dust.”

Railyn sighed and looked down at his hands. They were bloody and stuffing from being in direct contact with runic dust. His pants were smeared with the same blood from his hands. He blinked twice. “Did- did you hear bells ringing?”

“What? Maybe you hit your head as well as your hands.” The supervisor pulled Railyn’s head down and scanned his head. “Nope, no blood under that tangled mop.”

Railyn chuckled nervously. “Yeah, I guess I did hit my head. Maybe knocked something around.”

The supervisor’s smiled vanished. “All right, all right. Fun’s over. Go get those damned hands checked before they swell and I have to hear about it, and then you’ll have to hear about it.”

Railyn bowed and left to the pulley elevator. He wasn’t planning to go the medic at all.

It was time to go back and visit his hidey hole from all those years ago, Railyn thought.
Last edited by Omnom on Sun Jan 26, 2020 9:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
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AlyTheBookworm says...



Tyri Vidal


Tyri leaned against her staff and took in her surroundings. Though she couldn’t see the crowds, the buzz of life around her was almost palpable. Shouts, laughter, song, conversation, the rustle of clothing and the clinking of buckles, weapons, and jewelry as people passed by… The mingling smells of leather, smoke, spices, and metal… The city of Yse was full of life, and Tyri drank it all in.

Until someone barreled past her, almost knocking her down.

“Out of the way!” the man barked.

Tyri righted herself, using her staff to regain her balance. Whoops. Well, that was my fault. Probably shouldn’t be standing here gawking in the middle of a busy street.

A blind girl, obviously on her own and new to the city, standing awestruck and gaping at her surroundings like an idiot…

Tyri berated herself for drawing attention and put her head down, hefting her pack and starting down the street again. The last thing she needed was for a cutpurse to decide she’d make an easy target. She’d gotten herself into trouble multiple times over the past few months due to similar blunders and didn’t intend to make the same mistake again.

As she walked, she awakened her Primal Sense, bringing to mind the hours upon hours spent training with her mother in Syna. With a little concentration, she began to sense the people, buildings, and objects around her in her mind. Fuzzy, faceless figures moved through her sphere of “sight”, cloaks trailing behind them like mist.

Using the ability, Tyri wove her way through the crowd.

Primal Sense, her mother had said. It’s a form of magic unlike anything you’ve used in the past. It’s not like the spellcasting you’re familiar with… For one, it’s much more dangerous. It’s difficult to master and even more difficult to teach, but if you’re willing to learn I will train you.

The skill was a poor substitute for sight, but it had allowed Tyri to pursue her dream of travelling Synilas. And, at the moment, it kept her from bumping into buildings and making a fool of herself.

As Tyri walked, her focus wavered. Craning her head to listen to interesting sounds or catch the scent of baking bread, she found herself eager to explore. The mining capital of Yse and its three tiers had always fascinated Tyri, and now the writings scrawled in the tea-stained pages of her history books had come to life and stood before her.

But first things first. It’ll be night soon. I should look for an inn.

She approached a stall on the side of the street, intending to ask for directions.

“Excuse me?”

She sensed movement behind the stall, and the vendor appeared moments later.

“Ah! A customer!” he said cheerfully. “Good evening traveler! How can I help you? We offer all kinds of magical artifacts.”

"Actually, I-“

“How about this amulet? It’s inscribed with a rune for protection against jinxes. Try it on, I insist!”

Before Tyri could reply, the object was pushed into her hand. As it touched her bare skin, she suddenly felt… something. A warmth, emanating from the amulet. Looking down, she nearly dropped it in shock. She could see the rune. There, in the emptiness that had surrounded her since the day she’d lost her sight three years ago, were the lines and curves of a magic rune, glowing a brilliant white.

What is this magic that allows me to see?

The tolling of distant bells pulled her from her surprise, and she quickly handed the glowing amulet back.

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t intending to buy anything. I just wanted to ask-”

As she lifted her head, she recoiled in shock once again. The vendor was shrouded in a glowing aura. Unlike with Primal Sense, which provided something that was more a fuzzy sensation than real sight, she now clearly saw the vendor’s outline directly in front of her.

Tyri glanced around and found that the street was now crowded with glowing figures. An old man and his granddaughter browsed the stall to her right, and she noticed that while the man’s aura was faint, the child’s was stronger and brighter even than that of the rune.

Tyri rubbed her eyes and slowly uncovered them. The visions were gone. They had disappeared as quickly as they’d come, and the world had become shadowy and indistinct once more.

“Miss? You alright?”

The vendor’s voice called from behind her, and Tyri realized she’d stepped out into the street.

“Y-yes. I’m fine, thank-you.”

She turned back to the man, tightly gripping her staff.

“Sir, could I hold that amulet again?”

He held out the amulet and dropped it in her open hand. She turned it over in her hands, feeling the smooth surface, the grooves of the rune carved into it, and its weight in her palm. Rubbing her eyes with one hand, she clutched the amulet in the other.

When it was clear the phenomenon wouldn’t repeat itself, Tyri returned the amulet.

“Did you hear those bells?”

“Bells?” The man sounded confused.

“I… I heard bells tolling,” Tyri said, feeling shaken. “They were distant, but loud.”

“Eh, I heard nothing. But what about the amulet? Do you like it?”

“I’m sorry. It’s nice, but I don’t think I could afford it.”

The vendor’s tone of voice abruptly switched from friendly to annoyed. “Then don’t waste my time with pointless question! Bells… Ugh.”

Tyri left the stall and asked another street vendor selling fruit for directions to the nearest inn. After thanking the woman, she hurried down the street.

She arrived at the inn and paid for a room. After eating a bland meal of bread and soup, she headed upstairs to her room, locked the door, and laid down on the narrow pallet. She finally let her focus slip, and the fuzzy sensations of Primal Sense faded away, leaving her in an empty void without light or even darkness.

As Tyri drifted off to sleep, the odd experience replayed in her mind, vivid and bright. She’d been so surprised in that moment that she hadn’t noticed until now how beautiful the vision had been.
  





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Chaser says...



Paimon Fel

Paimon took a fistfull of leaves from her pocket and scattered them onto the table. “That’ll be twenty gold pieces,” she said.

The apothecary bent over the shop counter, adjusting his eyepiece. He daintily picked up each leaf, examining the reddish-orange glow from the veins. He huffed, sending his balding hair shooting up.

“Well, a deal is a deal,” he said. “I’ll also take some root of riander while you’re here.”

Paimon loosened another pouch from her belt and dumped its contents onto the table. “I nearly lost an arm getting these,” she said. “Bravery might not up the price, but demand sure does.” She beamed, turning the roots over for inspection.

The apothecary checked them for a second before sighing. “It’s all top-quality. I’ll go get your payment, then.” He walked around the wood counter and disappeared into the back room.

“Thanks for supporting small business!” Paimon called after him. Chuckling a bit, she leaned on the counter. The apothecary’s shop was a dense, cluttered room, with sloppily labeled items decking the walls. The windows were shuttered to protect the concoctions from the morning sun, and the cheap indoor lanterns conferred a mucous glow onto the wood. Paimon enjoyed the molded-over atmosphere, the faint smell of potions forming a slow, eternal haze.

“You seem kinda down,” she said to the apothecary when he returned.

“Yes, well, ingredients are expensive,” he lamented, and Paimon scratched the back of her head, grinning guiltily.

But it’s not just that,” the apothecary continued, gesturing to a gallon jar of greenish liquid. “There’s been a bout of bluecough round lately. I’m burning every resource just to try and keep up.”

“Hm.” Paimon folded her arms and pretended not to hear.

“But oh, well. I suppose even alchemy must obey nature’s will.” The apothecary took out a handkerchief and dabbed a bead of sweat from his forehead. He looked exhausted, as though his body had been pushed without regulation.

Paimon swiped her necessities off of the table and stashed them in her belt. Many of the coins were left on the table, to which she made a dismissive gesture.

“To be clear, that’s just a loyalty discount,” she said as the apothecary gathered the money.

The apothecary chuckled. “But of course. And thank you.”

“That’s not it!” Paimon said, brandishing her words and money sack. “Just remember the generosity of Paimon Fel, okay? Have a nice day, then.” She strode out of the apothecary shop determined not to regret a thing.

Outside, the sun was searing up from the east, dying blue shadows across the backs of buildings. Syna was not a place that woke lightly, and people were already beginning to head off to work, a rising tide of laborers and artisans. Paimon skipped lightly past them, not bothering to read their expressions. The faces in a town weren’t so much important as the atmosphere. Their lives blended into the bubbles that Paimon skated across in life. She was the dealer of catharsis; for most, that was all they needed.

The morning bazaar was teeming with wares. Tinkers scuttled to their stations, carefully placing down items of mechanical and magical interest. Paimon could see their gears turning, magic circles revolving around one another, apertures squinting at the throng of customers lining up in anticipation.

The farmers, having the easiest merchandise to move, were already set up in their stalls and extolling the health benefits of fresh rutabagas. The people of Syna loved to chat up how revitalizing they were. Paimon had read something of the “placebo effect” in the past; she had also seen something of the icebox from which a farmer pulled the “fresh” produce. It didn’t matter to her, as long as the rutabagas were a happymaker among the people.

She and her fellow vendor were among those “happymakers,” though of a different ilk. Paimon stepped into her usual alley and was immediately confronted by a grey-bearded man in a cowl.

“Before you lies ruin,” the hooded man said, wielding a glowing crystal ball. “Unimaginable sorrow, if you do not turn from your current path. This fate may be avoided with an offering of sustenance.”

Paimon sighed. “I’m not buying you lunch, Mogul. Though I do have enough to get something good for myself.”

A smile perked up from behind the beard, dislodging it slightly. “Oh, is that so?”

Paimon nodded, licking her fingers as she counted off options. “Mm, maybe a link of sausages, or sweetmeats? Though the pies smelled really good this morning.”

“You’re a horrible, horrible person, and fate is going to wallop you for it.” Mogul shook his head, readjusting the beard. Beneath the fake bristles was the clean chin of a twenty-something-year-old swindler, who’d taken up residence in this alley as a fortune-teller. He wasn’t Paimon’s friend so much as an acquainted contact, one she trusted to share the going-ons of Syna.

“So, I was right about the bluecough, wasn’t I?” Mogul asked, his eyes keen with wisdom.

Paimon shrugged. “Yeah, and I made good bank. Thank you for the tip.”

It helps me too.” Mogul shuffled in his long robe back to his table, placing his crystal ball on the pedestal. “I’ve told quite a few people that their ailments will pass. Hopefully with your supplies, they will.”

“Are you ever going to make a real prediction?”

“If I could, I’d make a fortune.” Mogul giggled for a second before resuming his wizardly air. “But all I can do is try to guide them towards the future they want.”

Paimon smirked. “You’re a little young to be dealing advice.”

“You’re a little young to be dealing sunweed. Don’t criticize my method.”

Paimon reached into her cloak and pulled out a red sling. “I’m gonna pitch that crystal ball over the moon, you know that?”

Mogul put his hands up, the beard conveying a mystic sense of calm. “Look, the only fortune I give is one of success. I advise people towards it, but I must say it’s difficult for them to reach that future with you hawking your snake oils further down the alley.”

“It’s the same lie, essentially.” Paimon said, flicking her hand towards him. “You’re just mad because I get paid more.

“I just want what’s best for their lives,” Mogul said calmly.

“And I want them to enjoy those lives,” Paimon replied.

“But I provide answers,” Mogul stressed.

“And sometimes the answer is smoking sunweed, Mogul. People need to unwind too.” Paimon smiled and leaned her back to the wall, watching the bazaar fill up. “Mind telling my fortune, though?” she asked without looking.

“The heavy toll exacts a trial of forgiveness.”

“Pssh. You saying I need forgiveness?”

“I didn’t say anything.”

Paimon shook her head in mock awe, looked down, and froze. There was a stone lying in front of her, the same color as the dirt. In fact, it was the dirt, formed of it in a perfect sphere. There was a rune printed onto it, glowing faintly in the daytime shade. And it was so familiar, this ghost of her past. The rune sphere had haunted her for eleven years. It would form out of a river stream, out of a cooking fire, or an oak log, and always with the rune facing her, the crossed slashes looking so much like an eye.

She set her shoe next to it and tapped it. The attribute of the earth remained solid in the sphere. Gently so Mogul wouldn’t notice, she nudged it away, out of sight and out of heart. Even if just for a moment, the sphere would disappear from her life. Disappear it did, just around the corner.

Paimon bit her tongue. If she looked around that corner, there was no telling whether it would still be there, it being a ghost.

“Getting cold feet?” She turned to see Mogul watching intently. “Scared of getting arrested for your wares, maybe. You should become an honest liar, like me,” he said, grinning cheekily.

Mogul’s words were often a salve, but this one did nothing to ease her. She wished she had something to calm her nerves. There was some sunweed in her bag, but no way to smoke it. She needed a-

Bong. Bong, Bong. Bong, Bong.

Paimon nearly jumped at the bell ringing through the alleyways and streets. The tolling seemed to resonate down to her bones, and she grit her teeth. It seemed a little early for the church to be sounding its steeple, though. Then it struck her. “Heavy toll. Toll, like a bell. Very funny.”

“Did you say something?” Mogul asked.

Between the sphere and Mogul’s nonchalance, Paimon was eager to get moving. “Maybe I’ll check out that trial of forgiveness, then. Or get a pie. Anything to get away from you.” She stuck out her tongue moodily.

Mogul leaned his beard on his hand. “Don’t go too far, now.”

But Paimon intended too, moving brusquely through the crowd. The bustling city rose up high above her, laundry hanging from lines across the windows of tall, rickety houses. Old-fashioned shingling had shrugged off the weather near the Draconis River for years. Even with the city’s growth, it never lost its intimacy.

Above the buildings in the distance was the church steeple, where hung a large bronze bell. The bell was rung each day to signal the hour, and as Paimon watched, it began to rotate in a mighty sweep.
Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong.
Paimon stopped short. It couldn’t possibly have been an hour since she’d heard the sound from the alleyway. But if the bells were tolling the hour just now, what had it been before?

She reached the steps, intent on running up them and getting answers. But her progress was halted early by a hand on her cloak. Paimon looked down and saw an old man in rags, his eyes weary and desperate.

The veins were popping out on his neck, and his face was flushed from the lack of air to his lungs. Paimon had seen the symptoms of bluecough before, and this old man was no better or worse than the thousand victims in the city of Syna.

Paimon grinned and shook his hand. “Hi! Are you here to see a doctor?”

The old man shook his head. He opened his mouth, and nothing but a dry wheeze escaped. Paimon estimated that the bluecough had just recently taken his voice. His hands grasped at her cloak, and she fought them away.

“I don’t have a cure, old man,” she said. During the time in which she’d spoken, her smile had dried thin as paint. “You need to get to a doctor.”

The old man spread his hands about himself, as if to sadly say, I would if I could. His mouth still hung half-open, moans lifting from his throat as if from a grave.

He wasn’t trying to grab her anymore, but his presence was unbearable. Paimon’s hand dipped into her herb pouch, coming up with ten hard, black seeds. She presented them forward. “These will ease the pain. That’s all they can do, though.”

The old man didn’t listen, and scarfed down the seeds. He leaned back on the steps, the rasp lifting from his breath. His eyes registered nothingness in the calmest manner.

Paimon watched him drift off, and when he was asleep, ran up the steps and banged on the church door. She turned back to the man and hesitated for a moment, then, at the sound of approaching footsteps, leapt from the stairs and back into the crowded street. All the while, she was trying to figure out what she was feeling.

It was a stupid mood, she decided. This whole day had put her into a stupid mood. She needed some relaxation time. She needed a vacation, somewhere ridiculously sunny. An idyllic mirage far from this trading town.

She nearly tripped on the ghost as she stepped over it. The rune sphere was made of clay this time, popped out of a brick building next to her. Paimon placed it in her sling, and, whirling twice for good luck, launched it over the horizon.
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AvantCoffee says...



Aharon Najjar



Midmorning sun glared baking white onto the clay outer wall Aharon pushed off from as he adjusted the turban across his face, readying for a performance, of sorts. He could manage it in the space between post-setup and midday presiding over his uncle’s ornament store, yet it would mean cutting interactions fine—not that fine-cutting had ever troubled him before. Against the wall Aharon had scanned the street in front of him, tucked in a wide gap between two market stalls.

Yse attracted a sprawling mess of stall merchants, traders, and crowds at this hour, and as inconvenient as this time was for him there was plenty to choose from; after all, it was easy to get lost in a foreign city. The dusty, earth-toned clustering of stacked buildings and narrow steps leading to higher and lower levelled streets would tip any outsider off balance, the consistency only spared by iron railings or the soft jewel of a dyed fabric draped from above.

Not far in front of him, unaware of his interest, a middle-aged woman also looked around, not with creativity as he did but with the stiffness of processing an overwhelming environment.

For a moment Aharon lifted his eyes from the back of the stranger to the fierce light above the drooping canvas shelters. If anyone had regarded him in this briefness, they might have sworn he had nodded to it as if acknowledging some unspoken challenge between them.

He then set to work, approaching the female traveller with a casual ease. “Forgive me, certain stranger,” he began, offering the side of his body as company, “but you present symptoms of being uncertain of your location.”

Together they faced the eclectic river of an open market street crowd, the smell of sweat and sizzling foods enmeshed in the all-too familiar scene to Aharon. It became apparent that the traveller was taller than Aharon by more than he had first estimated, but her thin mouth line and dainty physique were otherwise well observed.

She gave a breathy laugh. “I’ve travelled from the Astruian Empire, you see, so everywhere else tends to be… uncertain.” The traveller regarded Aharon’s fully covered body with equal uncertainty, however seemed to think it impolite to comment. Aharon was almost disappointed.

He appreciated her remark enough to laugh openly behind his turban, patting a hand on her nearest shoulder. “Yes, yes,” he sighed, “I can assure you the uncertainty only grows with steam operated delivery systems and Grand Rebellions.”

The traveller relaxed visibly at this, but Aharon soon wanted to speed up the process; Yse’s value of efficiency was ingrained in him.

“Where are you headed? Perhaps I could direct you.” Although he could assume the answer from the court robes she dressed in.

“The estate of Baroness Eveesha," she said. "One would think it more noticeable, yet these high, narrow streets are an eccentric maze at best.” The woman barely composed her distaste as she spoke.

“Ah, well, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be much of a navigator then, however,” Aharon gestured widely to the opposite side of the street, blocked only by the dense interweaving movement of people, “I know of someone who might… yet it might be difficult to see who I…”—he craned his neck for effect—"… well I’ll show you to her…”

Before the traveller could react, Aharon stepped into the market crowd, knowing the woman would hesitate before realising her best option was to follow. It gave Aharon a pause to be alone and calm among the swerving bodies. He dug his gloved hands into the outer pockets of his coat with habit, yet one drifted inadvertently within where a rolled map was tucked. His gloved fingertips brushed over the paper. The baroness’ estate, huh?

Glancing around, Aharon thought of the Astruian Empire and all the places unknown to him. To the south of Yse, the peeks of the Sturka Jaw – a Yse name for the two close, jagged mountains that loomed beside each other – were imprinting the sky above the street, and reminded onlookers of what would be waiting for them in that direction if they dared venture beyond them. Aharon often stared at them when the flat rooftops didn’t get in the way.

He knew what he must do, yet the thought made him unusually solemn.

His mind wanderings were interrupted by a prickling on the back of his neck: there it was again, the intuitive feeling of being watched intently. His hand came to rest on the hilt of the Jahibiya knife sheafed at his waist: another habit. Could it be guards? Surely they would have allowed him some entertainment by now given the many days the feeling had surfaced. How boring, he thought. It certainly wasn’t the traveller, who had batted her way through the crowd behind him with hunched shoulders.

Alright, the show now had motion. Aharon put the prickling aside for its cause to work out on their end. He proceeded to talk over his shoulder to the traveller, arms free and gesturing expressively. “I may have to send you to my direction giver while staying clear myself. You see…” he trailed off, mostly for effect, but also to execute a dismayed look in his pale eyes to the traveller as she manoeuvred nearby, “… we are not on good terms, or rather…”—and here is where he made a judgement call—“… the person is my mother who refuses to speak to me because I want to leave Yse for good. She sees it as a betrayal to the family business.” It was a lie and a gamble, but so was his entire plan in all its looseness.

The traveller took it well. “How unfortunate,” she sympathised, with an expression that indicated a chord had been struck. “If it weren’t for my required travel as a representative I would never venture to these uncomfortable places.”

“Ha! You remind me of my dear uncle.” An honest outburst; Aharon’s uncle and his wife had hardly taken a step outside Synilas, let alone the city of Yse, and they much preferred it that way. Aharon had covered even less distance. Unlike his absent parents. He let his lies run free: “I only made my wish to leave known a few days past, so I’m waiting for it to settle. It would be best not to mention me for that reason.”

The woman nodded, seeming more concerned with her sought destination.

Aharon shot his gaze ahead to his target, the so-called direction giver: the older, shorter woman preoccupied herself with a jewellery display table a few stalls down from when Aharon had first narrowed in on her. Aharon was pleased she hadn’t strayed too far since then, although it would have only meant a little further strolling. Still, he was already feeling faint from the direct light and heat.

Before spitting themselves out of the crowd to the other side of street, Aharon reach for the map within his coat. In a short series of movements – one of which involved hiding the rolled map in his coat sleeve – he had successfully placed the map in the traveller’s possession without her noticing; it was all too easy using the nudging of the closely moving crowd to mask the act. When the traveller was to arrive at the baroness’ estate her robes would be checked for weapons and magical threats, and there the map would be discovered. Or rediscovered, actually. He knew from experience. What happened after that was no longer his problem for all Aharon decided.

“There,” Aharon voiced, signalling towards the older woman by the jewellery display as he and the traveller stopped a distance from her on the same side of the street. “It’s harder to ask for directions around here than you might believe, but my mother should be reasonable.” Aharon had never spoken to the older woman in his life, but every resident in Yse knew the way to the Baroness Eveesha’s estate, however rare people were invited in. And the older woman was unquestionably local.

“Have luck with it all, then,” Aharon said, with an unsubtle dip of his upper body; his theatre shows at the nearby inn could be blamed for the naturalness. If the traveller were to look closer at his eyes she would have seen a flash of cunningness there.

The traveller bid him farewell and headed over to the older woman. Aharon followed yet kept his distance.

What had caught Aharon’s regard about the older woman was that she was an overly cautious, untrusting character. Her wide figure bustled along the stall fronts with a second look this way and that, her tanned fingers clutching the bulk of her shoulder bag close to her front. Definitely local: she knew thieves were about. But more paranoid than most.

Aharon slipped behind the curtainlike racks of a clothes stall, lacing his way further in and along the back of the row if stalls where a space only enough to shuffle down was always kept. And he did shuffle, as fast as he could towards the stall just before the jewellery display. It was a relief to feel the cool shadows over him.

The stall before the older woman appeared to be selling weapons, made and adorned no doubt with metals and precious stones from the mines.

On the spot, Aharon had intended to persuade the stallkeeper away, yet he found a snoring scruff of a man reclined on a canvas seat in the far corner. Aharon paused, opened his mouth as if to say something to him, then thought not to. Instead, he crept down the middle of the stall to the front, careful not to knock over any piles of leaning swords. As he did so, he swiftly undid the turban around his face and removed his cloak and gloves, dropping them to the ground close beside him when he reached the front table. He didn’t need them in the shade of the canvas stretched overhead, and their absence would keep him unrecognisable to the traveller he’d interacted with previously. If his uncle saw him now he’d probably have a fit and scold him for weeks, but it seemed this was Aharon’s price for remaining in the city, which he intended to do for a long, long time.

A child and her older caretaker wandered past the weapons stall, and upon seeing Aharon the child pointed and stared. Her caretaker soon noticed and ushered her away. It was a common reaction to Aharon’s pale skin, hair and eyes, often associated with the freakish colourings of gypsies. Which was only half true for him, but he'd not been born looking this way, weak like the fine ceramics traders brought in from Astruia.

He had managed to reach the older woman’s near proximity before the traveller. A moment later the traveller passed by – she glanced briefly at Aharon and nothing more – and got the older woman’s attention.

Time to be loud.

As the two women started talking, Aharon deliberately kicked a stack of swords leaning by the front of the stall table as a random person walked closely past. The swords spilled out onto the street in front of the stall, right next to the older woman, who had her back to his direction. She turned at the clatter disapprovingly, then returned to the traveller, clutching her bag tighter.

Aharon cursed. Loudly. “Watch where you’re goin’, ye good fer nothin’! Them swords are worth more’n you can pay,” shouted Aharon, waving his fist in the air; he’d always wanted to wave his fist in the air.

He swooped around the table and began picking up gleaming swords: this was a key moment, with him kneeling right beside the older woman and the traveller conversing with her on the other side.

He couldn’t stay long outside the canvas shade.

While still picking up swords with his far hand and fake grumbling, Aharon lifted the hilt of one sword in his other hand to the older woman’s side, where he could see a strapped, leather pouch. He tapped the hilt steadily there for a breath, a balance between firm and faint.

As quick as he’d done so he broke away to gather the single sword with the rest. He had stolen nothing yet, but now he only had to wait.

On the inner side of the weapons table again, Aharon watched the traveller nod at the route the older woman described and thank her. When the traveller strode a few paces away Aharon made to approach the older woman, but a calloused hand grasped his shoulder firmly from behind.

“What in Runeheim are you doing picking up my swords?” growled the stallkeeper, who Aharon had utterly forgotten about. He could see the individual hairs on the man’s beaked nose.

The low laugh Aharon emitted allowed him the think on his feet. “You were asleep and the swords fell so I figured I’d do a good deed. Now if you don’t mind I believe the older woman here just got robbed.” He said it low enough that the older woman wouldn’t overhear and moved around to her before the stallkeeper could object.

“’Scuse me, lady, but I saw that there woman you was talkin’ to pickpocketin’ ye jus’ now.” An accent had to be consistent, no matter how indulgent.

He watched the older woman’s eyebrows fling upwards as he came beside her. “What? That can’t be! I was watching her the whole time.”

“But I saw ‘er reachin’ into yer belt pouch on yer side. Don’t ye remember feelin’ anythin’?” He shaped his expression into sincerity.

The woman’s eyes glazing over was Aharon’s cue. Mistrust became her weakness, her paranoia focusing all her sensual memory and attention on that one area of her body a few moments ago. It allowed Aharon’s quick hand to go after the item he had really targeted: a cheap runic amulet he’d made note of the woman purchasing and slipping into the upper pocket of her cloak, located on her opposite side. Now Aharon un-slipped it, curving his arm as out of sight as possible, and tossed the amulet behind his back in the direction of where his coat lay under the weapons table. Simple misdirection.

A bright look dawned on the older woman’s face as she seemed to recall when Aharon had nudged her with the sword hilt. Then it fell to dread.

“Did ye have valuables in there?”

“Oh dear, oh dear, those damn rebels,” was all she could reply, and Aharon couldn’t decide whether her complexion had gone as pale as his or flushed with flaming anger. She didn’t think to check her pouch, where she would find everything all and well. Aharon wasn’t about to stick around until she did.

“Tell ye what, I’ll chase after ‘er for ye. I may not look it, but I work in a weapons stall an’ I got a good pair of legs on me.” Already he was darting for his coat, gloves, and turban under the weapons table, narrowly avoiding the stallkeeper’s field of sight because with great luck, the man was now attending to a customer.

Aharon bundled the runic amulet in his coat and hurried in the direction the traveller had strode briskly. She was barely visible down the street, and would soon be swallowed by a street corner.

The older woman called out when Aharon departed a few paces away, “Thank you, young man! But don’t feel the need to trouble…” Her words fizzled out when Aharon gave her a brief bow. Then he took off.

He would throw his outer clothes back on when he was farther enough alone, yet between the folds bundled in his arms the runic amulet touched a gloveless finger. The sun bore down on him, unforgiving, and he heard the toll of a bell:

Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong.

The sunlight and exertion must have got to him more than he thought to be hearing bells in his head, especially ones so loud and eerie.

He sensed no one following him as he ran away, despite the tax on his fine ceramic body, back to his uncle's store on the other side of the city. Back to the life he’d always known.
If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.
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Omnom says...



Railyn Yora



Railyn made it a sizable distance away from the mine-shaft he worked in before deciding he was far enough away to not raise any eyebrows from his supervisors where he diverted from the main walk-ways. Now to just avoid the Baron Guards.

He took off his maroon scarf and wrapped his hands with it in such a fashion that it looked as if he was carrying something, all the while concealing the injury. The Primal Dust was embedding itself into his skin, and he was noticing some swelling.

He took a left off the main road to a rickety and narrow walkway (well, more rickety and narrow, as that was a common occurrence in Yse) that spiraled and rose to the higher echelons of the tier he lived in. These higher walkways often ended in unreachable areas and crawlspaces. Still, there were enough shops there that it justified Railyn going up there-- at least partially. If the Baron Guards were particularly nosy and stopped him to ask too many questions, he would probably break immediately. He hoped things would go smoothly.

Right now his hands were hurting or in pain at all. In fact, he could barely feel any difference. However, he knew things were different when dealing with Runic materials. Something like this, a minor wound, could easily go south. He heard stories from the other miners about Runic Dust wounds that crystallized the area around it or gave the victim a magic infection or caused them to go crazy. Then again, the miners were known for their tall tales and imaginative storytelling-- often insofar as to devolve into name calling and other chatter that Railyn could probably never repeat without second hand embarrassment or busting out in laughter. Still, Railyn couldn't help but feel a shiver of... something run down his spine. He didn't know if it was fear, or anticipation or something coming from the Runic Dust in his hands. He just ironed his will and continued his walk upwards.

A Baron Guard rounded a corner, walking in his direction and Railyn stiffened up. Keep calm, don't make yourself suspicious. He reminded himself, and had to repeat it in his mind. He forced himself to keep walking. His legs were stiff as a part of his brain battled the part forcing him forward. He could just imagine how he looked to the guard; like an automaton surging forward. The image caused a small bubble of laughter to burst from him. Luckily, the Baron Guard was looking down at a clipboard-- at least, until Railyn made a fool out of himself by laughing and attracting attention to himself. The guard glanced up and raised an eyebrow, but didn't stop Railyn, instead just passing by. Crisis averted. Railyn blew out a sigh of relief he didn't know he was holding.

Railyn felt an anticipation building as he reached the upper echelon of the buildings. To the vast majority of people in Yse, this ceiling was the end of their world in Yse, and unless they venture outside the city on caravans, this was the end of their world quite literally. The Barons and their loyal guards made quite sure of that. Even outsiders knew little of the truth.

But Railyn knew, and knew too much. Usually those who knew what he knew were appointed as Baron Guards if they were compliant or forced into the dark corners of Yse if they weren't but still useful to society. If they were neither of those... well, Railyn supposed they all ended up in the same place Ryun did. Missing, gone, disappeared. Never to be seen again.

Railyn reached a large plaza that arched around a giant stone pillar carved from a mountain long ago carved away, which supported all three tiers of Yse. This plaza was the final area of Yse and the last stopping place before Railyn's and Ryun's old hiding place. It was almost always vacant because there was basically no reason to be so high in the city. At least, almost always.

At the pavilion, at least a dozen Baron Guards were patrolling, on alert, or just lounging around. Railyn barged onto the pavilion, gasped, and immediately stepped back into the shadows. Unfortunately for Railyn, he was never the most sneaky of people, and a Baron Guard who happened to be close to him walked by. Railyn froze, and he hoped that the shadows were enough to cover him. The Guard walked by, and Railyn breathed out a sigh of relief. The steps stopped, and Railyn's heart jumped out of his chest.

"Halt!"

The dreaded words.

Railyn sprinted through the pavilion, attracting the attention of the entire squadron of Baron Guards. At the same moment, the ceiling of the pavilion collapsed in dust, dirt, and grime. Roars echoed from the now-open cavern. It was a Grand Rebellion from the city tier above them. That was why the Baron Guards were there. Railyn didn't have much energy or time to invest anymore into that thought as he ran from the two Baron Guards chasing him. He dodged a rebel, narrowly avoiding their torch, and slipped into a smaller corridor. He heard the Guards shouting their usual commands at him, but they were becoming more distant as their armor made it more difficult for them to navigate the corridors. If Railyn stopped now and let himself be caught, he would be used as a scapegoat for the Grand Rebellion, just because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, if the reason for him actually being up there was brought into question, he would be gone for completely different reasons. However, he was in his element now. Memories and instincts from his childhood came flooding back. The Baron Guards didn't know these walls nearly as well as Railyn. Admittedly, he was larger than he used to be, and some areas were blocked off from natural degradation, but he was still making it through far better than the Guards. In fact, he no longer heard them, but even then he still took the long way navigating the corridors, wrapping around his hiding spot and away at times. But, as the walls widened again and the paths got more and more familiar, Railyn slowed down to a trot, and then a walk.

Eventually, he found the entrance, and emotions flooded back that he had long ago suppressed. Instinctively, almost hopefully, he shouted Ryun's name. Perhaps Ryun had felt the same pull as he had.

Silence.

He should have known better. He should have. But he still felt a twinge of pain for his long lost friend. He slowly entered their getaway from reality and took a moment to reabsorb everything there, their old headquarters. It was a small space to most people, a part overlooked by the Barons when they split Yse into three tiers. It hugged the border between Yse's upper two tiers. *more descriptions*

Railyn's eyes veered to a bundle of blankets and broken planks, and he gasped inadvertently. Though there was no reason to assume otherwise, Railyn was surprised to see that it hadn't changed at all since they were there last. His hands hurt, and were majorly swollen, but he still managed to caress it.

Dong. Dong. Dong. Dong. Dong.

Railyn's head screamed in pain, and felt like it was splitting open. His vision whited out, and he heard a large CRACK! After the pain subsided, he opened his eyes to find himself in a completely different place. He looked around at a dim room and five other people in the same position as he.

Railyn tried to move, but what seemed to be a large, living scroll was wrapped around his body, tangling his limbs and keeping him rooted in place.His eyes adjusted to the warm light of a roaring fire in front of him. The living scroll entangling him sprawled all the way to the flames, and its end was alight, and the fire-turned-purple spread to the withered paper. He glanced around and noticed several more scrolls sprouting from the blazing fire. He counted five more, and only just noticed that the five other people were trapped at the end of those scrolls, just like he was. The others noticed him much around the same time as he noticed them. He opened his mouth to speak, to scream, to call for help, something, when a large door burst open with bravado and much creaking. "It worked!" A gravely, crackly voice sounded from the vacancy of the door, and a weathered old man hobbled in, looking at them in awe as he straightened his worn and war-torn robe, removing much dust but just smearing what looked like fresh blood further down his clothes. He was breathless. "It worked! Well, mostly," he muttered, pointing to a vacant seventh spot next to Railyn. "All according to plan, all according to plan," he said to himself. Railyn tried to speak, but the old man seemed to realize they were there and interrupted him. "There's not much time I'm afraid. I really cannot explain everything to you six, but you are important, and you are connected." He hesitated, and scrambled to a desk in the corner.

"You are all part of a prophecy." He muttered as he raised an old scroll, half torn. He glanced at the living scrolls, where the purple fire had reached halfway to Railyn and the others. "Oh, my the time keeps escaping me." He set the scroll down on the desk. "The bells you all have been hearing were no coincidence. It was an unfortunate by-product of this conjuring spell to gather you all here. I cannot tell you where I am, but you will know. We need your help. The world needs your help. You are all either in Yse or Syna. Find each other, however you must." The ceiling shook, and he glance around nervously. With a flick of his finger, the large door slammed shut. "You will find out that you have special powers in the upcoming nights. Find each other. Flee Synilas. Survive. They do not take kindly to magical fol--"

The purple flamed reach Railyn's feet and engulfed him immediately. The pain was similar to before, but somehow he was more used to it this time. His eyes were clenched shut, but he hear noise, like a large cat purring. He opened his eyes hesitantly to the sight of a dragon.
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ScarlettFire says...



Elidyr Adonis var Ardys

Elidyr carefully picked his way down the path just outside of Syna, Lady flaring her wings whenever he accidentally jostled her. He could see the gates just up ahead and hoped they'd let him in. He'd heard about the outbreak of bluecough and figured he'd probably be able to help, being a healer. That wasn't a guarantee that they'd even let him in.

Oh, stop fussing!

He flinched. "Lady," Eli hissed, glanced towards her as she cocked her head and meet his gaze. As he watched, she blinked. "A little warning, please. I'm still not quite used to the mind-talking."

Lady snorted. It's called telepathy, Father.

Eli frowned at her and she just flared her wings again as they came to a halt just outside the gates. Not. Helping. He grunted and turned to face the gates. Which were open. Wide. Open. Eli sighed and shook his head. "They never learn..."

Always quarantine an outbreak of any illness, Lady quoted in a snotty voice that was very reminiscent of Elidyr's lecturer from the Academy. She quickly switched back to normal; It is a sensible idea.

I know, Eli told her with a sigh and squared his shoulders. He marched through the open gates and immediately side-stepped the large wagon that was headed out. "That's not a good idea..."

The driver just shot him a dark look and urged the two poor horses pulling it to move faster. Before long, the wagon was bouncing well out of sight. Eli watched it go for a moment then turned to head off down the street into town. He needed to find somewhere--or someone--or some way to help.

The streets were still bustling with a lot of people, and a lot of merchants or travelers, despite being so early. And that just upset Eli even more. They really should have been quarantining the entire damned city! If there really was a bluecough outbreak, then letting people come and go as they were would just spread it. Elidyr couldn't help thinking of all the things the Academy medics would be doing to stop the spread, and despaired that Synilas weren't as advanced as the Empire in that respect. He was honestly going to have words with the city's doctors and healers if he got the chance. They were going to get their entire nation sick if they kept it up.

He rounded a corner and stopped short at the sight--and sound--of a very, very busy marketplace. There was a couple of inns--which he would definitely want to visit later--and a rather crumpled-looking tavern, an apothecary's--that someone was just leaving--and what appeared to be a bookstore right next to it with a sign that announced a healer's ward just further down from that. He glanced towards all the farmer's stall, at the Jeweler's across the way, at the blacksmith's just next to it and then back to the apothecary and the healer's ward. Further away, he could see a tall, slanted roof--a church. Or temple, depending of the person.

"Well, Lady," he said, glanced about to see many people coughing and moving much more slowly than others. "I think we're in the right place."

Of course we are, Father. With that, she launched herself off his shoulder and flapped up onto the apothecary's swinging sign, where she proceeded to stretch out her wings and bask in the growing sunlight, head tilted up til her face was to the rising sun.

Elidyr smiled slightly and shook his head, then made his way down the street towards the healer's ward. He'd just passed under the sign that Lady was perched on when he heard it.

Dong.

Dooonggggg.

Dooooonnggggg.

DOOOONNNNGGGGG.


He stumbled into the wall beside the apothecary's door, clutching his head. Through the ringing in his head, he heard Lady's wings as she fluttered them and glided down onto his shoulder, claws digging into his collarbone and shoulder-blade through his layers of clothing.

It took a moment before he realised she was trying to talk to him. Father? Father?!

"I'm alright, Lady," he muttered, leaning heavily on the wall and slowly lowering his hands. He cast a glance about, but no one had seemed to notice him--or the bells, the echo of which seemed to reverberate through his very core. Elidyr glanced towards where Lady was perched on his right shoulder and frowned. "Did you hear the bells, too?"

Lady blinked slowly at him. What bells?

"Nevermind," Elidyr hissed and pushed off the wall. He could wonder about the bells later. For now, he needed to go offer his help with the sickness spreading through Syna. The sooner, the better, because if they kept up the lack of, well, anything, then they were going to have a proper plague on their hands.

He tried to shake off the echo of bells tolling and headed off down the street again, stepping over a rather large hole in the cobblestones. He paused at the mouth to an alley, glancing down it to see a bundle of dirty clothes and blankets curled up behind a shabby-looking cloth--with several objects on it--laid out on the ground. Elidyr hesitated, glancing towards the healer's ward sign and then back down the alley. The bundle coughed, violently, and his mind was made up. Eli turned and headed down the alley, barely sparing the cloth a glance before he reached the bundle's side and crouched down beside them.

"Hey," he said softly, gently laying a hand on what seemed to be their arm. "You okay?"

The bundle coughed a bit more and shook its head. Elidyr tried to peer beneath the blanket that had been pulled over what seemed to be their hand, but all he could see was long, tangled dark hair.

"Bluecough?" he asked and the bundle nodded. Eli hummed and glanced about. "Let me guess, couldn't afford the healers?" Again, they nodded and the coughing grew even worse. Eli sighed. "You must be pretty bad if you can't talk to me..."

"Can.... Hurts..."

Eli winced at how raw and hoarse the poor bundle's voice sounded, but at least he sort of had an idea of their gender now. "Don't talk, sweetie. I can help you, okay? But it's gonna hurt... You good with that?"

For a long moment, the bundle was silent and unmoving and then they nodded. Eli blew out a breath and then shifted to kneel in front of them. A dirty, feminine face peered back at him from the shadows beneath the blanket with bright eyes. There was a rash across one cheek and about her mouth and nose, but she seemed okay otherwise.

Eli nodded to her. "Ready?" he asked and she nodded back. "I'm sorry."

With that, he leaned forward to press a hand against the base of her throat and closed his eyes, trying to concentrate. Distantly, he felt Lady hop off his shoulder with a tiny meow. He filed it away for later, knowing that Lady wouldn't go far. Without Lady to worry about, he turned his attention to the sickness infecting the poor girl's lungs. It lit up a sickly blue-grey in his magical senses and Eli dove towards it with his healing magic.

As he started to burn away the sickness in her lungs, he felt his own begin to burn, felt his breath getting shorter and shorter. Distantly, he could hear her crying out hoarsely in pain, but he had to at least give her a chance. She was..so so ill. The bluecough was practically coating her lungs, slinking into gaps and spaces that Elidyr hadn't thought it could get into, and then it had started creeping up into her throat. No wonder she'd not been able to speak very well, no wonder it hurt. As he noticed that, he felt his own throat begin to burn and cried out, ripping himself back away from her.

He tripped over something in his haste to pull away, and opened his eyes right as he landed on his ass. Lady darted away with a hiss. Elidyr ignored her, unable to look away from the girl opposite him. She looked a little better, less pale, and the rash on her face didn't look as bad. He could feel the itching and burning across his own, though, so he knew he'd taken some of it into himself. After all, that was how his healing tended to work.

She opened her mouth to say something, but instead of hearing her, Eli heard the echo of the bells tolling again. They were much louder this time, and he cringed, slapping his hands over his ears as he scrambled backwards. Eli cried out in pain, feeling like his head was splitting open, but his voice was too hoarse to be very loud, and then there was a loud CRACK.

~ ~ ~


Elidyr woke to the feeling of someone gently slapping his face and a certain cat yelling loudly in his head. He groaned and slit his eyes against the light. The young girl--the one he'd healed in the alley--was leaning over him, looking worried. The images of purple fire and living scrolls, of a little old man, of something shaking....bells ringing--they all lingered. He frowned and pushed up onto his elbows.

"What happened?" he managed hoarsely, letting the girl help him sit up. Lady danced into view, meowing worriedly. He offered the little winged cat a small smile. "Hush, Lady. I'm okay."

"You, uh....you healed me and passed out?"

Elidyr winced. "That...occasionally...happens... My apologies."

Father! Father is okay! Lady launched herself into his arms, causing the girl to squeak and back off. You were asleep for a long time!

He glanced sharply to the girl. "How long was I out?"

She winced and glanced away, her body language worried. It was only then that he noticed they were no longer in the alley, but in the healer's ward. He froze, glancing about, but no one had noticed he was awake yet, let alone the girl sitting on the edge of his bed.

"Most of the day," said a voice from behind him. Elidyr twisted to see a healer--a handsome, older man--on the other side of the bed, one he hadn't noticed before. "So nice of you to tend to the girl for us. She assured us you could, ahem...pay..."

Elidyr watched the older man warily for a moment, squinting at him in suspicion. After a long moment, he relaxed back into the bed and threw an arm over his eyes, jostling Lady--who complained by meowed and darting off. "How much?"

"A donation, please."

He sighed and lifted his arm just enough to see Lady sitting on his chest. "Lady, would you?" he asked and the cat hopped off his chest and into the girl's lap. "Thank you." He sat up--slowly--and fished around in his pockets for some money or maybe herbs... He frowned, finding at least one of his pockets empty. In the other, he found a scrap of scroll and a couple of coins. He tossed one of the gold ones at the healer, who caught it quickly, snatching it out of midair. "That work?"

The man offered him a wide smile. "Perfectly," he said and pocketed the coin. "And if you wish to offer your services while you're here, we won't stop you. We do have a bit of a... problem at the moment."

"The bluecough?" Elidyr snorted and shifted so he was sitting on the edge of the bed with his back to the girl. "Speaking of that, you do realise if you don't quarantine the city, you'll have a plague on your hands? Across the kingdom and possibly into others?"

The healer lifted one shoulder. "We advised the one who rules this city, but they didn't seem to care."

"Right," he grunted and pushed up onto his feet. "Well then, I'll be off."

"But--"

"But nothing." Elidyr shot him a glare then turned to gesture at the girl. "We're leaving. Syna's ruler can figure out their own problems--without my help."

With that, he turned and started around the end of the bed, snagging his bag off the foot of it as he went. He didn't trust any of the healers, not if their attitude to such stupidity over a potential plague was to shrug and say they did their best. Besides, he had a lot more to think about. Like the prophecy the old man had spoken of. Just who was he supposed to find in Syna? And why was he supposed to run? Who was hunting them?

Once outside, Elidyr turned to the girl, who held Lady in her arms. "My apologies, but I can't stay and you can't come with me."

She sighed and lowered her gaze to the ground, blushing slightly. She didn't look as dirty as she'd been earlier, either. Eli frowned, but let it go. If she'd taken something of his just to get a bath, then he wasn't going to complain. She'd not get bluecough again, not so soon. It would hopefully take a few months, maybe years. It'd linger with him, though.

"That's alright," she said and raised her head. "I couldn't leave you just laying in the alley, not after what you'd done for me."

Elidyr offered her a kind smile. "Seeing you feel better was worth it."

"Even though it hurt, quite a bit."

He winced. "Sorry about that, it's a side-effect of my magic, and one that's always been there--"

"You don't have to explain!"

Lady launched herself out of the girl's arms and over to him, perhaps sensing where the conversation was going. "I... Alright, then. Goodbye....miss?"

"Sera. It's Sera."

Elidyr inclined his head. "Elidyr," he said, "Elidyr...var Ardys." He bowed. "Pleasure to heal you, Miss Sera."

Sera giggled a goodbye and darted away, back towards her alley, leaving Eli to stand there staring after her. He turned to look up at the church as the bells in its tower tolled, reminding him of the vision he had and of the prophecy the old man had mentioned. What was he supposed to do now? Just wait?

He sighed and made his way towards the church.
"I bow to ChildOfNowhere, my one and only master."


"No one screws Yamcha but life!" - Bulma, DBZ Abridged.
  





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Chaser says...



Paimon Fel

The old man shook with the force of his missive. "You will find out that you have special powers in the upcoming nights. Find each other. Flee Synilas. Survive. They do not take kindly to magical fol--"

Purple flames clawed their way up Paimon’s torso, subsuming her head in hot hazy magic. Paimon kept her eyes wide open, and saw the room shift and burn away, turning inside out itself as the fire patterned itself the surface of her eyes. It shifted and grew until it felt like it was cleaving her in two, and Paimon thrashed as violet dimensions upturned.

Her fist flew down and struck clay shingles. Paimon’s eyes focused on the light blue sky. She lay flat on her back atop a roof. She’d scratched her hand on the masonwork when she hit.

Paimon turned over and looked on the pipe clutched in her other hand. The sunweed was still glowing softly. “What the hell did that guy sell me?” she marveled aloud.

Still, the pipe was a worthy purchase. It was a long, serpentine item, with the payload nestled in the jaws of a dragon, complete with ceramic whiskers. Even if it had cost her the day’s profits, and a bit of her sunweed store, and however much effort it took to get up on this roof - she hardly remembered doing it - she’d given herself some premium rest and relaxation. She couldn’t wait to see the look on Mogul’s face when she strolled up and offered a hit.

“Hey!” Paimon looked down to see an old man peering up at her from beneath a brimmed leather hat. “Get out of here, you,” he snarled. He had a brick in his hand, poised to throw.

Paimon pushed herself to her feet and dusted herself off. “Alright, alright,” she muttered as the old man continued pouring out insults. She slid to the edge of the roof and shimmied down the stone wall, landing awkwardly in front of the street. She stumbled for a moment, before catching herself, spreading her hands wide to the man. “See? I’m gone.”

The old man grumbled something else, and noncommittally lobbed the brick at her feet. He huffed past her and into the house, slamming the door.

Paimon took the last drag of her pipe and let it burn out. This wasn’t the first rooftop eviction she’d faced, and damned if it’d be her last. She stowed the pipe in her bag, the bag under her cloak, and most of her body with it. A wry smirk spread on her face, and her conical form fluttered as she took off, looking for new prospects all around.

The bells tolled the hour. Paimon raised her head at the familiar sound.
“It’s not a bong, it’s a pipe,” she said to herself, then chuckled. “That’s stupid. That’s so stupid. Ooh.”

She smiled to the high heavens. “Find the others. Collect them all. We’re in grave danger!”

Syna’s streets ran twisting up and down like a corkscrew spiderweb. Magic users were known for their inscrutable minds, so Paimon thought they must have been writing in cursive with the city streets. It was the late afternoon now, and people had begun to move about, some from their work to home, some from their work to more work. They looked upon Paimon and frowned for a moment, before shaking their heads. It’s easy to be happy when you’re that helpless, they thought. She’s content to be a bum.

You’re right, Paimon thought. Not gonna stop me, though. Because when people convinced themselves not to be happy, they were just going to be preyed upon. Guilt too, was overrated.

The sphere popped perfectly out of the cobbled street, as Paimon’s foot fell directly on top of it. Suddenly the ground burst beneath her, the stones impacting and shattering like teeth crowded together by a new growth. Paimon’s vision was overrun by the seal on the stone, crossed slashes looking so much like an eye, or an open head wound.

The stones that pushed up now crumbled to dust. Paimon was left with her foot raised above a pothole of crushed stone. The people passing by had heard the resounding crunch, or seen the gravel shoot skyward from her feet, and were now looking directly at her. Their jaws hung open.

Paimon spread her hands weakly. “Ta-da.” Pivoting on her other foot, she hightailed it down an alley before anyone could say anything else. She headed for the church.

“Sanctuary, sanctuary,” she sang beneath her breath, though taking refuge in a church probably wouldn’t protect her from the law. Better to just hide there and make things easier for everyone.

The church loomed up before her, a distinctive slate grey, a circular stained-glass window depicting something or other high power. The bell hung in its same spot, waiting to be rung again. The stone stairs were wide and tapered up to a humble wooden door, a simple entrance to the holy something-or-other. They were also empty. The old man must have gotten treatment. If not that, a home to rest. Something.

“Get out of the way!”

Paimon hopped aside, looking in confusion as two men in heavy coats barreled past, carrying between them an animal-skin stretched on a wooden frame. On that skin lay a woman, staring up at the sky, her mouth frothing with spittle.

The door opened inwards, the priest standing at the door, covering his mouth with his robe as the woman was carried past. His aging face was grim with fright. As the priest went to shut the door, his eyes met Paimon’s. “You’d best stay away for your health, child,” he said. “There’s more where she came from. So many more.”

The door closed. Paimon was left standing in the road in front of the church. Groans escaped through the wooden door.

Her bag felt helplessly light. She’d sold all of her ingredients for hybroth potion. She stood there until she felt like she’d snap in two, like her cheap flea-market pipe.

Mrrrow.”

Paimon looked down. A blue-grey cat with wings folded to its back brushed lithely past her leg and headed for the step. It hopped up to the door and looked around, searching for a way in.

“Pspspspspspsss,” Paimon said, beckoning with her fingers. “Hey, hey. Kitty. C’mere.”

The cat looked at her, and Paimon could swear it rolled its eyes. It hopped off the step and walked around her. She stretched out to pet it as it passed, before losing her balance and toppling over. She landed on her back, splaying out on the street.

“Puah.” Paimon reached backward for the cat; her hand wrapped around someone’s ankle. She looked up.

Standing over her was a man dressed as an angel. His robes flowed around him, rippling a shadow into the twilight. His face was a bit darkened but somehow, Paimon could see his eyes shining.

“Hello, kitty,” Paimon said. “You looking for some medicine?”

“I don’t need to buy anything,” the man said, almost reflexively. He smiled awkwardly, then shook his leg.

“That’s fair. I’m out of hybroth potion anyways.” Paimon released his ankle, rolled over, and stood up. “I could offer you some peoda seeds. Wouldn’t cure you. Might just help with the opposite, in fact.”

She circled around him, getting a better look at his face. As he turned to the light, she could see the rashes trailing down his neck. “You really ought to see someone,” she added. “The apothecary on Razel Main should have some curatives.”

The man shook his head. “I’ll be fine.” The cat leapt onto his shoulder, and he petted her absentmindedly as he looked at the church. “The cures should go to the people who need them.”

“Except no one short of the Idora family could afford that much cure,” Paimon said. “This outbreak is really unprofitable. I mean, unfortunate.”

She waved her hands around, smiling. The man leaned forward, raised an eyebrow. “But you’ve got a way of selling hybroth?”

“It’s what I do. Paimon Fel, freelance apothecary,” she said, jabbing a thumb to her chest.

“Elidyr var Ardys,” the man replied.

“And I used to have a supply, but it’s all run out now,” Paimon continued. “Hybroth, by the way, is just pell leaves and root of riander, ground up and dissolved. I tell everyone that, but the method to getting them is secret.”

Elidyr glanced at the church. “Too secret for this?”

A low moan sounded from inside the church, whirring pain from a torn-up throat. Paimon cringed.

“I’m just maintaining my business,” she huffed. “At least my prices haven’t gone up. You look around and you see clinics marked up double, triple. The nerve of some people.” She withdrew the pipe from her bag, packed in a bit of sunweed.

Elidyr stared at her through the smoke as she exhaled. “If it’s money you need, I could--” he stopped, amended, “--I might be able to get it to you.”

“Well, it’s not really the money either, it’s just, I, damn it.” Paimon thrashed her hair with her free hand. “Why’re you doing this, anyway?”

The orange light caught in Elidyr’s eyes, glowing up his face. “I don’t want to just wait around while people die.”

“That’s so freakin’ noble. You remind me so much,” Paimon groaned, looked skyward and slapped a palm to her forehead. “Alright.”

“Alright?”

“I’ll get the ingredients.” She held up a finger. “If you come with me to help collect them. And,” she added, and smiled at Elidyr’s shoulder, “I get to pet the cat.”

Elidyr and the cat looked at each other. Paimon could have sworn that they were battling it out in stares. Elidyr’s gaze remained tender, but strong, and eventually the cat’s head drooped. Elidyr turned to Paimon.

“Her name is Lady,” he said. “And she says you’d better hold up your part of the deal.”

“I definitely will,” Paimon said, and reached up to pet Lady. “My dear dealer apprentices.”

---------------------------------------------


Elidyr peered out of the alley, looking around for the watchmen in the night. When he saw nothing, he looked again. “Are you done?” he asked.

“Shh, this is a character moment,” Paimon said, further down the alley in the darkness. She was holding her cloak open to display her wares. “It builds character.”

“A drug deal builds character?”

“Builds your patience,” Paimon called back, then looked forward, “And mine. Are you gonna pick an ingredient, kid?”

“I’ll pick soon,” retorted the client. “You can’t afford to rush me.” He was a young man with blond hair, a stiffly upturned nose and lip. His gaze flitted to every part of the alley, taking in Paimon as a source of unbridled danger. Eventually, he pointed to a bundle grains by her breast pocket.

“Buckflower,” Paimon said, handing over the bundle, “a smooth and pleasant ride. That’ll be seventy Gildar.”

The client sniffed and reached into his coat pocket. “I’m overpaying for this, so you’d better be grateful.” He withdrew a belt buckle from his pocket. It glinted in the faint streetlight, the clasp set into a small medallion with an octahedral sapphire into silver metal.

“It’s a Hextech gem,” he said, dropping it into Paimon’s hand as she passed the herbs. “You’d activate it by twisting the stone.”

“Is that so.” Paimon weighed the buckle in her palm. She glanced over at Elidyr. “You can heal me if this thing explodes, right?”

Elidyr shifted his feet. “Maybe. Just hurry up, please.”

“Some things can’t be rushed,” Paimon said, uncoupling her belt. She held her pants up with one hand as she fastened the new buckle, trying to ignore the revolted stare of the client. Soon enough she had the new belt buckle shining around her waist. She grabbed the sapphire in the center, trying to loosen it. “Okay, so I just twist it, this way.”

Suddenly her body jumped inward, sucking most of her with it. Paimon staggered, looked down, and saw her body compressed to centimeters wide. “Whoa.”

The client nodded. “It’s a corset. Though I think you twisted it a little too far.”

“This is cool. This is really cool,” Paimon said. Her spine had become thinner than a pole, the rest of her body sucked inwards towards it. She jumped up and down, feeling the weight of her entire body, but the near vanishing of her torso and chest.

Elidyr looked a little pale. “You shouldn’t play around with magic like that.”

“Oh, but this isn’t magic,” Paimon said, rippling her body like a wire. “It’s just diet and exercise, with a side helping of good ol’ prayer.”

The client seemed annoyed. “Is that fine?” he asked. “Good. I’ll be off now. Don’t follow me.” With that, he spun on his heel and disappeared down the alleyway.

“He seemed pretty eager to get that off of his hands,” Elidyr noted. “You don’t think he-”

“Kids steal from their parents when they think they wouldn’t notice them.” Paimon waved her hand. “What people want to do with their money isn’t up to me. It’s what they’re feeling that really matters.”

She patted the belt buckle. “And right now, I feel pretty amazing. Let’s find a place to sleep, and we can head out first thing tomorrow.”

Elidyr nodded. “We’ll have to find transport too. It might take a while.”

“All of that is fine and good!” Paimon said, twisting herself into a rail-thin spear. “No use discussing it any further. Let’s go save Syna!”

---------------

“And that’s when I realized that hey, this guy’s not old at all! He just dresses that way to be fashionable,” Paimon said, poking out from the top of her barrel. “And that’s how I met Mogul.”

“I see.” Elidyr had popped the top off of his own barrel, and was shifting around uncomfortably. Lady jumped out to sit on the side of the wagon.

The driver of the wagon, a middle-aged man with a straw-woven hat, held the reins in one hand and turned around to look at them. “We should be clear of the checkpoints now. Just don’t look suspicious, and we should be fine.”

“Yeah.” Paimon jumped around in her barrel to face the strawhat. “Who’d have thought they’d implement a quarantine today of all days? Lucky us, being quick on the uptake.”

She jumped back around to face Elidyr. “Speaking of uptake, I won’t catch that cough from you, will I?”

Elidyr grimaced and shook his head. “I hope not. But I’d like to avoid crowds if we could.”

“Then you’ll be right at home in Serion, sir.” The strawhat pressed a sackcloth to his mouth and breathed through it. “Small place, quaint. Good air,” he added, before turning back to the road ahead. The horse hauled the wagon at an even trot.

“We should be able to collect the root and leaves by midday, then sneak back into Syna at night,” Paimon said. “Shouldn’t be too hard. We might want to hire muscle, though. Just in case.”

“Just in case what?”

“Trade secret.” Paimon brought her hands up and made an x. “Until then, it’s just you and me in these barrels, barrel buddy.”

Elidyr smiled slightly, then shifted his shoulders. “I’m getting out.”

“But barrel buddies!”

The wagon rolled through the hills away from Syna, getting further from the river and towards the forest that corralled the plain. Paimon fell over halfway through and stayed that way until the wagon stopped, and she rolled forward to be stopped by Elidyr’s foot.

“Serion Village,” the driver told them, and tipped his strawhat. He accepted their coins from Elidyr with a guarded grip, washing them with water from his canteen before pocketing them. Paimon popped out of the barrel and onto the ground as he thanked them for their patronage, then turned his wagon around and left them standing on the dirt path.

Up ahead, the village lay nestled into the side of the forest, half-in-half-out of the trees’ shade. Newer houses seemed to be built deeper into the trees, while old stumps surrounded the outermost houses. Each house was made of that wood, somewhat uniform, but the oldest ones appeared to be cracked and wearing.

Paimon pointed into the trees. “We’re headed deeper in, but let’s stop through town first.”

Elidyr nodded in agreement, and Lady hopped up onto his shoulder as they set off. It was midday, and children raced between the houses, hopping up onto them and jumping off, pretending to fly. Their parents stood on their porches, gazing after them fondly, before noticing the approaching figures.

Paimon’s dirty brown cloak fluttered around her, the belt buckle shimmering proudly. Elidyr leaned forward a bit, dressed unassumingly enough, but the winged cat on his shoulder cast a bit of suspicion. They saw a mother gesture hurriedly to her children, calling them indoors before the strange people rolled through town.

“I don’t think they like us,” Paimon said as the doors shut. “That's sad.”

They walked through the stumps to the treeline, where a father was pulling at his daughter, trying to move her away. The little girl was pointing up a tree, where a colorful shape was climbing upwards.

“No need to worry! I’ve almost got him!” came a shout from the leaves. Paimon and Elidyr walked over and looked up.

A man was clambering up the tree trunk, moving out onto the branches. There were leaves and twigs nestled in his dark brown hair, and his pure white armor scuffed against the bark as he moved. His pink cape trailed behind him, tangled in the sticks. In front of him was a small tabby cat, hissing and swiping at him.

Elidyr and Lady looked at each other, then Lady pounced up and into the tree. The man seemed to be having trouble moving. “I’m telling you, there’s no need to worry!”

The father, seeing Paimon standing next to him, gave up on moving his daughter and instead stood between them defensively. Paimon shrugged. “You, uh, you need help up there?” she called.

“I’m ok!” the man called back. “I think. Maybe. How strong does this branch look?”

Paimon shrugged. “How strong does it feel, man?”

“Not very.” The man set his lips in a line, hunkered down close to the branch, and inched forward. The tabby seemed ready to pounce before Lady appeared next to him. They looked at each other for one second, before Lady pointed with her paw down at Elidyr. Paimon noticed that Eli had taken a wide catching stance.

The two cats seemed to have a back-and-forth, with the tabby digging his claws into the bark as he looked down.

The armored man behind them shifted forward. There was a small crack, and the branch tilted down.

The tabby lost his nerve and jumped, flailing, towards Elidyr. The healer bunched his robes up and caught the cat, bringing it close to his chest in a bundle. He held out, and looked relieved as the cat sat up, shook its fur out, and leapt to the ground.

“Tabby!” said the little girl, scooping the cat up and hugging it to her face. The father stood by in relief.

“Oh, he got down? Wonderful?” said the man in the tree. “I’ll be right down there, then.” He tried to back up, only for his snared pink cape to fall over his face. From the look Lady gave him, Paimon learned that cats were capable of pity.

The father walked up to Elidyr and bowed. “Thank you, really. Lettie, what do you say?”

Lettie beamed up at Elidyr. “Thank you very much, Mr. Blue!”

The father chuckled a bit. “She calls things by their color,” he explained, and extended a hand. In all the bluster, he hadn’t noticed Elidyr’s bluecough rashes. “My name’s Tristram. And you?”

“Elidyr var Ardys.” Elidyr started to extend his hand, but saw the rashes and took it back, stepping back a pace.

“And I’m Paimon,” Paimon said, stepping in and grabbing Tristram’s hand, shaking it up and down. “But you’ve seen me before. At a distance.”

“Yes, I have.” Tristram withdrew his hand and looked at her warily. “Sorry, you just seemed a bit...conspicuous before.”

“Entirely fair,” Paimon replied. “But we could still establish good relations. And trade.” Her eyes glinted on the last word.

Tristram chuckled again, but less sincerely. “Maybe. Maybe. Lettie,” he said, “let’s go inside for lunch now.”

“Okay!” Lettie said, cradling Tabby to the point of smothering. “Bye bye, Mr. Blue! Mr. Pink! Ms. Muddy!” Elidyr nodded and smiled as Lady hopped down to his shoulder, and the father and daughter left, rescued cat in tow.

“She was a bit meaner with that last name, huh?” Paimon remarked, scratching her cheek. She turned to Mr. Pink in the tree. “Hey, you want a job when you get down?”

“Oh, I don’t take jobs!” Mr. Pink replied. “I’m strictly a good deeds paladin. It’s part of my oath!”

“What oath is that?”

“A Haster Agnes oath!” Mr. Pink replied. “That’s my name, by the way.”

“Well, A Haster Agnes Oath, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” Paimon said, ignoring the withering look from Lady. “Come down here and you’ll do the goodest deed of all.”

Haster reached up to his cape, trying to free it from the branches above. On the final tug, his knee slipped, and he hung, lopsided, from the cracked limb. He looked down and laughed. “Could you--”

“Yeah, yeah, you’ve got it.” Paimon nodded to Elidyr. “It’s just a bigger cat. You’ve got this.”

Elidyr shook his head and stood under Haster, holding his arms up. Paimon turned and looked past them, towards the deep forest. In the midday sun, the leaves cut the sunlight into shreds that fell upon the ground where flowers grew. It was a paradise apothecarium.

“Roots and leaves, here I come,” Paimon said, as Haster dropped from the tree and smashed Elidyr flat.

---------------------------------

“Then I said, that’s not a tiger, that’s a flame-dancer in tiger-skin pants!” Paimon said. “And that’s how I found out about Mogul’s night job.”

“That’s amazing,” Haster said, moving a branch back and away from their heads. They were traipsing over roots and between vines, Paimon slipping through as the others stumbled behind.

Elidyr winced as one of the branches flew back and slapped him with leaves. “So, could you tell us why you brought us both here?”

“Oh, yeah. That.” Paimon brushed her way through some vines and glanced at them. “Well, root of riander only grows in very old trees, most of which have been picked to extinction or killed by natural causes. Some trees, though, can be given magical life. This gives you an infinite supply of roots, if you can take them.”

Haster frowned. “If we can take them?”

Paimon grinned. “I did say that these trees were given life. And they have a lot of it. And they don’t like having their roots picked at.”

Elidyr paled. “Oh.”

“So the plan is this,” Paimon said. “Haster, draw its attention and try not to get hit. If you do, Elidyr should heal you. Elidyr, also don’t get hit. I’ll move in, not get hit, and dig out enough roots to make more cure.”

She turned around and saw their shocked faces. “You know, I did this by myself a week ago. And we’re already cutting it close by taking this many roots. I don’t want to risk killing the tree, even if it does give us the amount of root we need.”

“Well,” Elidyr started, but stopped. “No. This should be enough. If this is the best way to get the cure, we’ll try it.”

“Thank you.” Paimon looked to Haster. “When you’re ready, bust through that curtain of vines. It’s in that clearing. Elidyr will flank left, I’ll cut right. Have you got this?”

Haster nodded and smiled. “Just leave it to me.”

Winds shifted through the forest, blowing Haster’s cape wide. Paimon had the sensation of safety drift around her.

She pointed forward. “Let’s get that root.”

The three of them charged forward, breaking through the vines to the light in the clearing beyond. They stopped in their tracks. The clearing was silent. The tree’s bark had twisted and cracked, some magical expression of agony. It lay on its side, pulled up from the ground.

“No way,” Paimon murmured, rushing over to the tree trunk. “No way.” The stump had been uprooted, a large hole in the ground where it should have been. The tree trunk had been cut clean, countless rings showing in the wood. She knelt by it, feeling the ancient weight of its death.

Paimon looked up at Haster and Elidyr helplessly. “They’re all gone.”

Haster thumbed his chin. “Does that mean that someone else is making the cure?”

“I don’t think they are,” Elidyr said. “Otherwise the outbreak have gotten to this stage.”

“No, no, no,” Paimon said, standing up. “I was here a week ago, when the bluecough was rising. The riander root is definitely making the cure.” Her eyes met Elidyr’s, and understanding flashed between them.

Haster folded his arms and frowned. “But that doesn’t make sense! I mean, if the person who did this isn’t giving out the cure, then--” he cut off, realization dawning, “--they’re not giving out the cure.”

“They’re hoarding it,” Elidyr agreed. “And letting the poor die.”

Paimon sat heavily on the trunk of the tree. She patted the bark for a second, and sighed. Her dragon pipe lit up with smoke and ash. She puffed it once, then blew a thin trail of smoke straight up, until her lungs were empty. She breathed deep once more, and smiled. “I’m having a bad day.”
The hardest part of writing science fiction is knowing actual science. The same applies for me and realistic fiction.
  








"He looks like a turtle who's been through the Vietnam war."
— SirenCymbaline the Kiwi