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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 replace 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.
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Tue Jul 23, 2019 5:25 am
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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.
The hardest part of writing science fiction is knowing actual science. The same applies for me and realistic fiction.
  





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Thu Aug 01, 2019 2:43 am
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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.
— René Descartes
formerly Coffeeism
  








The very worst use of time is to do very well what need not be done at all.
— Benjamin Tregoe