Rhea, Year 813 of Avia, Day 276
A black bird was perched on top of a tall tree. With a flap of its wings, feathers fell from the sky. They rained down like ash after a volcanic eruption. The ground was full of bloody bones, littered across the flat land as far as one’s eyes could see.
A flaming red bird covered the sun. It cawed out, and the shadows cast by the black feathers disappeared. The sea of bones turned into a wave of fire, until there was nothing left but void.
Icarum Solus Nova!
Icarum awoke on his mother’s lap and rubbed his eyes. He squinted and saw the angry expression of a tall, red-haired woman with small wrinkles across her eyebrows and forehead. Icarum prepared himself for a long and boring lecture.
“How do you manage to fall asleep the moment we start class? This is why nobody wants to teach you!”
She was right. Icarum’s school teacher pretty much expelled Icarum after he “accidentally” set his teacher’s hair on fire. His expulsion was quite impressive, considering that he was a chieftain’s son. As a result, Icarum’s mother took it upon herself to educate her troublesome son, despite his previous teacher’s insistence that it would be impossible to do so.
“Page four hundred and fifty-six. Now.”
“That’s page five hundred and forty six.”
Icarum appreciated his mother’s efforts, but he could never really take her education seriously. If learning was supposed to be fun, why was it so restrictive? It seemed as if teachers managed to make even the most interesting topics boring. Additionally, it didn’t make much sense for aspiring steam manipulators to study history, or future chemical engineers to study psychology. Icarum was a true believer in a free, liberal education, and until he received it, he was ready to challenge the current system until the very end.
At least that’s what he told himself. Deep down, he knew that he was just lazy.
After five minutes, Icarum seemed close to dozing off again. His mother shook him awake, then closed her book.
“Let’s take a break.”
“Hooray.” Icarum’s face held a blank, emotionless expression.
“Icarum, what do you even want to study?”
The question caught Icarum off guard. He was only ten, so he assumed that nobody, not even his mother would think that he was old enough to answer.
Icarum’s mother looked around to make sure nobody was nearby and smiled. “You’re just like your brother when he was your age. Both of you grew up in a magic-less society, yet you ask about magic nonetheless.”
“So it really exists?”
“I don’t know, does it?”
“Mom, come on.” Icarum twiddled with his thumbs. “In all those Rhean stories that Father shared with me, there’s spirits and magic. At first, I thought that the authors were just being creative, but then I realized that all of them describe magic in the same way. There are too many overlaps for it to be a coincidence, don’t you think?”
Icarum’s mother patted Icarum’s hair and brushed it to the side. “You’re too smart for your own good sometimes.” For a moment, her tone turned serious. “It’s dangerous.”
Icarum's eyes were fixed on the mountain range far into the distance, oblivious to his mother’s warning.
“Icarum, the Sydernians banned the teaching and practice of magic when they took over. I’m sure your curiosity will get the better of you, but please, don’t get yourself in too much trouble.”
“Your father will be back soon. Let’s get ready for dinner.”
As Icarum’s mother began cooking, Icarum set up the table. He took four plates out of the cabinet, but quickly put one back. He remembered that only three of them would be eating together that night.
The door creaked open, and the sound of wind chimes filled the room.
“I’m back.” A bald, plump man with bushy eyebrows entered the house. He smelled of tree bark and damp moss, and he carried a sturdy, metal axe with both hands.
“Welcome back, Dhoro.”
Icarum rushed to his father, jumping over the chair that blocked his way. As his father hung his coat, Icarum jumped up and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Dad!” Dhoro knew exactly what his son was going to ask for, and looked fondly at Icarum’s eyes, burning with curiosity.
“Did you get me that story you pro-”
Before Icarum could finish his sentence, his father picked him up and tickled his stomach. Icarum squirmed and laughed as his father carried him to the dinner table.
“I’ve got the book in my bag, but don’t tell Mother,” he whispered. “She’s been angry about you getting distracted lately, so she’ll confiscate the book if she finds out.”
Icarum nodded excitedly.
After Icarum and his parents took their seats, Dhoro placed his hands together and looked up at the ceiling. “Let’s say our prayers.”
“Phoenicia, o’ goddess of fire and hearth, deliver us from evil. Vulturus, o’ god of fear and darkness, spare us from your wrath.”
Within a second, Icarum lunged forward, stuffing as many pieces of pork belly in his mouth as he could.
Dhoro laughed. “Why the rush? There’s enough for all of us.”
With a mouth full of food, Icarum responded. “Brudda tol’ meh thut I ned to et mor to gain mussle.” He swallowed as fast as he could, then began stuffing himself again.
“I’m sure what Igsum actually said was to eat your vegetables. Take some of these carrots.”
“Nop. Defiffity naut.”
Dhoro looked at Icarum with a serious expression on his face. “Where is your brother anyway? He’s been gone for two days. He usually tells us in advance when he does something like this.”
Icarum paused. Since his father spent the past decade appeasing the Sydurnians, he probably would approve of Igsum joining the army. But Igsum joined because of Marie, and his parents were not exactly happy about Igsum’s relationship with Marie.
Icarum decided to feign ignorance. “No clue. I’m sure he’ll be back soon.”
Dhoro looked suspiciously at his son’s poker face, but gave up on pressing further. He didn’t want to involve Icarum in his own problems with Igsum.
“So Dad, about that new bo-.” Icarum covered his mouth instinctively.
“Book?” Icarum’s mother looked angrily at Dhoro, and he chuckled in response. It looked like he had more urgent things to worry about.