To Swim Amongst the Stars
Until yesterday, if you’d asked me what I wanted more than anything in the world, I would say “To swim amongst the stars.” While some might want wealth or fame, there was nothing that made me happier to hear stories of those who had traveled the great aether and think that someday, that would be me. Only, as my family was quick to remind me, it could never be me. As an heir of House Feal, my duties were not to travel, or explore. Greatness of our family came from the magics of language; of understanding and discussing where others could not. And until yesterday, I would have accepted my family’s statements dutifully, and continued to struggle with my studies, even as my heart floated with the hidden entities of space calling my name.
But yesterday, a horrible thing happened. An act of avarice on behalf of my oldest brother has all but ruined my family, in name and in life. I escaped, but have found myself a prisoner inside a vessel known as Accipitridae. For the first time in my life, I truly understand the meaning of the words “be careful what you wish for.” My only hope is that this whole horrid ordeal is part of something greater, and that in the end it will all be worth it in some small way.
My name is Lancaster Feal. I am a survivor of an event most will forget in a blink, but in my home nation of Kunnan was known as “The Great Betrayal.” But more importantly, I am an outcast, and the one who holds the key to clearing my name is the very individual who put me in this place, the one who killed my family, and indeed the one who killed our King.
When I say “our King” I really mean our appointed strongest mage amongst the ruling families. Kunnan is a Mageocracy of sorts, in which the reputations of family lines mingle and mix together with the actual abilities of its decedents to determine who should be our most forward ruler. There’s a lot of really boring politics involved, but there’s been a peaceful succession of leaders for as long as anyone can remember. Our King was a man by the name of Ethos Ferric, and two days ago, preparations were beginning for the birthday of his oldest daughter. And it’s there that I unwittingly found myself down a path that would ultimately spare my life, but alter it indefinitely.
Two days ago, many were preoccupied about what they would wear for the Grand Soiree, and who they would intend to rub elbows with. Sure, it was celebrating a birthday, but the way anyone talked about it the princess might as well not have even been invited. I, however, had to focus on trying to understand the rhythm and flow of words needed to convince the feyfolk to haggle with me favorably, a lesson of magery I was hardly interested in or competent at. I found myself constantly corrected and chided, as my wording was too brash, and too forced. As had been explained to me, I was demanding and invoking them to do my bidding, whereas a skilled Verbumancer would pull the statements needed from the very hearts of their target. It was tedious, and I wasn’t even sure when I’d meet an elf or fairy on this god-forsaken planet whom I would need to coerce. I barely understood their language as it was, not that it mattered as any traveler around here would know Common.
Of course, it was the usual frustrating tisk-tisking, of “as a member of House Feal, this should come naturally.” The only reason I was focusing so hard on my lessons was that I knew when I’d go home I’d have to work on the equally unnerving posturing and polishing of my image and stature. My father had been spending more time at home in the evenings, and had taken to beating me over not being enough like my older brother. Working hard here meant not being sent home in frustration or insult. Working hard here meant not adding more fuel to the fire of my father’s tongue.
It was all in vain. Others in my class had little issue summoning demons, or controlling the elements their family was known and bred for. I, on the other hand, failed to simply talk my way into magic. It was a frustrating thing for me, but even more so for our elder teachers, who had originally expected to see me succeed where my brother once had. My teachers barely put half an eye on me now, and that was the case here. I could slip out unnoticed, and decided I should before I was ridiculed out or worse, punished by being sent home.
The streets home were not nearly as busy as they usually were. I’m not in any rush to head home, so my eyes are wandering, when I see something at a soup shop that catches my eye. I decide to investigate. It’s this first act that leads towards me being able to live when my fate seems sealed.
The soup shop is a simple affair. It’s a building made to look of rough stone, although touching it makes it clear it’s made of something far more lightweight. There was a large open window, ensorcelled to keep people from coming through it yet allowing the smell of the delicious foods inside it to slip through. Through that window, I caught something more than the smell of some cheap lunch. A large beast of a man sat at the counter, his back turned to me. His clothing was simple, but different. I knew he was an outsider, and I was curious to learn more. I opened the door, underneath the simple sign stating “Kasery’s.”
He was the only patron in the shop, and he was not at all like me. He was tall, lean, and hid under a dirty, dingy white cloak. A hood covered the back of his head, hiding his body features. I thought for a moment, not wanting to intrude while at the same time finding that I really couldn’t resist learning more. I decided, for once in my life, to use my Craft for something I wanted, and not just a teacher’s lesson. Of course, even that decision opened up a line of confusion. I knew nothing about this individual, who had become my opponent just as much as he had become my mark.
I nodded to the owner, a petite dark-haired man, and asked him what the special was. He could tell I was looking for something cheap, and offered me a rabbit broth noodle soup for just a few talons. As I’m ordering, I kept trying to get a sideways glance at this unusual traveler, but he was well hidden beneath his clothing. It was almost as if he’s wrapped to protect him against the sand and harsh sun of a desert. This made little sense, as there isn’t a real desert anywhere within three days of Kunnan. If he noticed me in any way, he did nothing to show it.
I took a deep breath, and tried to use everything I knew to begin a conversation. It began so tersely.
“Greetings,” I said, envisioning myself as in charge, as the leader. I focused, with my eyes open, of emanating an aura of charisma. I saw parts of myself reaching out and wrapping around this stranger, and pulling him and his attention towards me. I envisioned with my mind, and manifested with my soul, the symbols used to bring this individual closer to me.
The creature stopped for a moment, putting down his soup, but he did not face me. When he opened his mouth, I became a little frightened, yet even more intrigued. His way of speaking was rough.
“I’d stop while you’rrre ahead.”
I didn’t head the warning, and moved forward with my plan. I veiled myself, hiding my true intent, my desire to know more. I instead made myself out to be his friend, a fellow traveler. I was to be trusted.
“I don’t believe I’ve seen you here before. Might I ask your name?”
Silence. But he was tense, like he’s getting ready to make a move. Looking back, I should have seen was about to come, yet I was sure at the time that I could control the situation.
“It is alright, friend. You are with-”
I’m not even sure what I was going to say, at that point. In less than a flash, my soup was in the air, and my lungs were lacking of oxygen. I felt myself flying, not falling, to the ground. As my eyes gathered themselves, I quickly felt myself pulled up by my throat.
In my face was this beast, who was nothing of a man. He had a snout where there should be a nose, and sharp cat-like eyes pierced back at me. His face was completely furry, a dark mottled brown fur that defied the sharp contours of his maw. And his hand… it was muscular, and had sharp thick talons. He breathed into my face sharply, and I struggled to get on me feet. It took me a few moments to realize I was flailing because he held me against the wall, just a few inches from it.
My mind scrambles, thinking of what I can do to make this right, to use my skills to my betterment and help me escape. The owner of the store looks at me, and I’m confused because it seems like he’s shaking his head, as if he saw this coming too. What was it that made this attack happen? I opened my mouth, but it was another voice that put an end to my struggling.
“Balgar, put him down.”
I try to turn my head to see who is saying this, but I can’t. He’s just out of my field of vision. But he sounds dainty, and I can hardly believe anyone would listen to him.
“He was coverrring me with rrropes. With mind magic.” This creature does not blink, or stop glaring at me.
I try to respond, but I can’t. My throat proves absolutely useless.
“I know that,” this other person responds. “Hell, anyone could see it. It’s such a novice attempt it’s almost charming. But look at how he’s dressed. He’s clearly nobility of high class, although he wears that jerkin like a boy and that color is far too flashy for its own good. I’m assuming some rich student taught that what he knows of his craft actually works.” There was an insult there, and this individual took the time to let it settle in just a moment before adding. “It’s clear that someone will miss this idiot. Just let him go.”
With that, this creature lets me drop to my feet. I stumble, take a few steps, and find myself in front of the individual who was talking to me. He’s shorter than me, but at first I don’t think too much of him. He’s sharply dressed, but in a way that is simply not of this world. His suit looks like it is of two pieces, firmly hugging his body from his neck to his feet. He wears boots less as a necessity and more of an accessory. As I notice his light brown hair I realize he’s not human like me, either. He seems like he is, but his ears have a sharp sudden point.
He was clearly feyfolk.
“I’m sorry,” I said. But as soon as I finished that sentence, I continued. “I just had to know what you were? I mean, what your friend was. And-”
“Your murrrderrrerrr,” the beast said, with a slow emphasis on the word murderer. For a moment, I become genuinely scared. He was still glaring at me. More than that, I felt complete shame and humiliation at my skills failing so miserably. In the back of my mind, I beg myself to tell me what I did wrong, but before I can come up with an answer I realize I’ve run past these individuals and out of the store. I was heading home, locked in an argument with myself over the level and depths of my own stupidity.