This was a novel I set out to complete more than two years ago. (December 20, 2014) I got about a week into the endeavor and then abandoned it. This is a common occurrence, you’ll find. The last I edited, not added to this piece was March 26th, 2015.
If you have any thoughts, please share them with me.
I sit here in the dim light of an Ether Lamp. Lost technology that is scattered around this Orb we call Mirrahk and as precious to us as food or drink. Lost technology, because we barely understand it. The only legible documented history we have — began only 400 years ago. There are tattered books and parchment around me littering any free space that could be put to better use. It is places like these; lost libraries and ruined structures that I strive to learn about all that it is we’ve lost.
Unfortunately it is not the books themselves that I am looking for; I think to myself as I tear up the pages of an illegible tome. Even still, if I could make out the ancient text on the pages it is not as though I could easily read them. My people may know what happened within the last 400 cycles but that does not mean the lost histories happened directly before the current age either. I have gleaned enough about our world to know that when the Ether was at the whim of my people it was more than a millennia ago. Ether, such a curious and dangerous thing. It’s as if it is alive, and yet, not. It seems to have a mind of its own, however through the tapestries and intact sculptures among other artifacts I have come to know that there was once a time that it and its essence were under the complete control of human civilization.
How far have we fallen? What happened? The book I had begun tearing apart moments earlier is now just a pile of fine shreds, ripe for lighting. All I need now is a bit of legitimate fuel. “Pike?! Piiiiiike! Where are you my girl?” – I wait in silence for only a moment before I can hear the click-clack of my Wortbeast’s hooves. She comes at a gallop through the large stone archway at the back of the room with a triplet of thick logs lodged within her curled tusks.
When Pike drops off the logs at my feet she takes a big snort and twirls three times to the left in her excitement for getting her task done. The tuft at the back of her hind legs is waving relentlessly behind her. “Yes, yes, good and smart girl you are. Here, a krabble for you my friend.” I toss the stocky, six-legged, and razor-backed creature one of the small rodents I had caught earlier in the day. She catches the bugger in mid-air and swallows it whole. Pike then stares at me for a moment, mouth open and head cocked to the side fishing for continued praise. When it is not given to her she moseys on over to my pack and lays up against it. Waiting for me to light the logs I have just placed on top of the shreds of tome I had made for kindling.
I grab the Ether Lamp and open a small window on the side. Ether Lamps may be one of the rarest of the Artifacts on Mirrahk. Part of what makes them so desirable is the flame within never dims, nor does it ever flourish. It stays the same constant light and requires no fuel. It, to an extent, seems to be a conduit to the Ether itself. The life force that permeates every facet of this world and was once the source of all technology. As an Archaeologist I have learned enough about the Ether to Weave small pieces of it to my advantage. Ether-Weave is what we called it. Controlling the forces of Mirrahk to do whatever we needed it to.
Once I feel ready, I bring my open hand to the window of the lamp and concentrate on what I want the Ether to do. I envision the flame extending like a hand to light the firepit in front of me. Slowly, it begins to extend and vine its way to the destination I request. Tendrils of flame slip in to every corner of the structure I had placed in the pit and sit still. After a moment all gets silent and suddenly the fire pit erupts in full force. Ready to keep whatever may be looking in the distance exactly where it is for the remainder of the night.
It is good that fire keeps one safe, as the art of Ether-Weave has some very dire consequences. Once my concentration is broken and the flame is lit, the Sickness comes upon me. Not a debilitating pain, but hallucinations. Ones that make any kind of concentration nigh impossible. The books littering the floor of the ancient library are now an ocean in every direction around me and move back and forth like the waves themselves. Pike is ready for this. She positions herself thusly to protect me if anything is to go awry. I have only weaved a small amount of Ether so the hallucinations do not stay for long. Perhaps five minutes have passed before the reality that is given to my eyes goes back to the familiar.
Not much is known about the Sickness and why it is now caused by Weaving. To some, it is believed Anathema – cursed by the priests of the old world when it fell. To others, a taint; caused by some attack on the Ether by a force unknown. There are few now with the ability to Weave at all, let alone Weave with success and not be so affected by the Sickness.
It is this reason why I search for our History. I search for why we fell, how the Sickness came to be, and how I can conquer it. I’ve come to this Library in search of a map to an ancient Lucracian city. The Avian People of Mirrahk who fell from grace even before the Humans themselves. Or so I have attempted to piece together in the years since I began this journey. It is there, in the city, I believe I can find some kind of clue to the Origin of the Sickness. Perhaps, I can even find some insight to the Lucracian’s history and their relation to Ether-Weave.
I must wait for the light to return, I think to myself as I begin to unravel my bedroll from the pack Pike is sleeping against. It is in the light of day that I will journey deeper into the library in hopes that my clues to the location of this map did not lead me astray.
Tomorrow we discover a path. – Is my final thought before drifting off to sleep.
Rays of sunlight proudly hammer against my eyelids through the crumbling roof above my head. I wake up to the early morning chirping within the forest. Looking about my surroundings I can see nothing has moved from the night before. The scattered objects around me seem to have only been moved by Pike’s own brutish “organization” in attempt to clear an area we no longer need. Everything is pushed aside from where the fire had burned itself out and from where she had decided to sleep. There is also a nice spot cleared around a pile of dead krabble she expects me to prepare for breakfast. There is no time for cooking at this moment, I shake my head with a smile at the beasts attempt to tell me what to do.
Once I have everything packed up, and the Ether Lamp safely attached to my belt I set out to find Pike before delving into the wet corridors below this eerie place. I could call her, but this is a moment of peace and certainty before heading into the unknown. The Sickness is not just what happens to people who attempt to Ether-Weave. As Ether lives within everything on Mirrahk whether it be stone or soul; there are a great many things that have been twisted by the Sickness itself.
From what I have learned, there are animals of Mirrahk that used to be attuned to the Ether in ways us Humans were. The difference being that they could not choose when or when not to tap into it. They were always living in tandem with the Ether. When the world fell, so did they. They have become twisted mirrors of the elegance they used to project.
Now, these creatures are the Forsooth. Rabid and dangerous beings that will break your mind before devouring your flesh as you scream in madness. I can only hope that we do not encounter one today, as I search the surrounding flora and fauna for my Wortbeast.
Of course, it does not take me long to find her. Krabble hunting is definitely something she favors in this life. I come upon her whooping and snorting up a tree in attempt to catch one that has gotten away from her. Krabble’s are not the smartest things around, but they do have personality. This one Pike had been chasing has decided to toy with her and sits perched upon a branch throwing seeds between her eyes to be antagonistic.
If they weren’t such ugly creatures inside and out, I might feel bad for what I was about to do next. It’s only a little, it should be worth it. I think cautiously as I pick up a palm-sized pebble from the dirt at my feet. I again open the window of the Ether Lamp on my waist and hold my palm out flat with the pebble resting in the center. I concentrate on what I want to happen with my free hand hovering over the open window. With just a flick of my thoughts the pebble rises an inch from my palm and crack! It travels at indiscernible speed towards the target – hitting it square in the skull. The krabble topples over the branch and in to Pike’s awaiting jowls.
This was an even smaller Weave than the night before. So small that the only effect is to enhance all the colors of the forest and make my eyes sensitive to sunlight. It gives me a small headache and I sit down for a moment to catch my bearings. Pike prances over to me with her prize and nuzzles her snout into my chest. When the contrast of the world has gone back to normal and sunlight is no longer blinding; I rub her head and grab the krabble to stuff in my pack.
“Come, Pike. We have pressing matters to attend to.” I speak with fervor to get her to focus. We are not far from the Library, and the day is early – but it is getting drearier by the minute. I am hoping to be in and out and have the Sun still about when I am done with my rummaging. However, if the weather turns I may just dawdle until it passes.
When we make it back to the night’s camp, everything seems to be normal. I am slightly paranoid about things that go bump in the night. They just don’t ever keep it to that time of day. Bandits especially can be troublesome and I would rather not have to spill any blood if I can avoid it. Just in case, I do an equipment check.
My belt is tightly secured around my waist, Ether Lamp clipped to the left, and my Schiavona sheathed to the right. I pat my hands down the length of my leather trousers to check their fidelity. The crisscrossing leather threads on the sides that keep them tight-form to my legs are still taught. They have no signs of wear beyond what I already know. When I get to my boots I check the double straps and buckles. I tap on the hard leather soles to make sure they are still in place. With those taps I can feel my dagger is still lodged on the inside of my right boot.
I can sense the weight, but for some reason I still need to check my chest and make sure my shirt of light mail is still exactly where I left it. My padded leather vest completes the ensemble and I feel like I can move forward with my task confidently. There is something I am missing… what is it? Ah! The inner monologue reminds me that I hate having my hair in my eyes while I work. I pull back most of my blonde hair from the front and put it in to a half tail in the back with a leather strap. That should do it!
I complete the equipment check and feel comfortable with myself; so I take the camp pack and attach it to Pike’s frame. She comes up to my waist so it is easy to get to, and she takes major pride in protecting our things. I just always hope it doesn’t slow her down too much if her more feral side is ever needed.
And down we go…
I am not sure what time of day it is any longer. The deeper we go the less cognizant I seem to be of my surroundings. This ancient place is so thick with the Ether I feel like I am swimming in a torrent of my own thoughts. I have to remind myself why I am here. The map! We must find the map!
My torch from when we first entered is still burning brightly. The last thing I want is for it to go out down here. It is dark, and the Ether is thick. Were I to Weave right now I am not sure how long and how intense the hallucinations would be. I have heard stories of Weavers who got over-confident and boastful. There is not one who has come out of their stupor.
Pike is pulling up the rear and rifling through everything she can manage. I’ve been able to translate a loose idea of what we are looking for to her. Enough for me to be convinced that she could be the one to happen upon it herself. I just hope she doesn’t get too excited and impale it on one of her tusks.
I can see a corridor in the distance. Shelves of ancient publications line either side, and give the impression of funneling any curious individual in that direction. As uncomfortable this place made me feel from the poem a seer in Raghasbad had given to me. This hallway made it seem like a children’s tale.
The Ether is so thick it is visible to the naked eye. Or is it? This place is like no other I have been to in any of my travels. Raw Ether is playing with my mind. Digging inside of the folds of my consciousness, sewing doubt and confusion wherever it sees fit.
The green mist stuffing the corridor is moving. There are varying waves of thickness pushing each other around. Some up, some down, some – fighting itself? Snap out of it! You knew of the risks, you came anyways. Push forward, Heric.
Each step is deliberate. I keep my torch arms’ length in front of me and motion Pike to stay alert. The closer I get to the mist the more my sense of reality twists. I look down at my feet to try and anchor myself to something real.
This doesn’t help.
My feet are not moving at the same speed as my body. I move 5 meters forward, or, it seems so. Yet, I have only seen myself move one leg and take one step, and my legs are behind me. I decide it is best to keep my head up as I am pushing forward. It is better, if not by much. I can only hope at some point it subsides. There is no way I will find the map in this condition.
I am nearing the end of the corridor. The shelves on either side of me are breathing. Expanding and contracting at the same rate as my own lungs. I can now make out an archway through the mist. It is my sole desire to get there and hopefully out of this mess.
The mist is getting thinner, the archway becoming more clear. Not much farther now. I look down at my feet again and they are moving in unison with my body. Thank Mirrahk! I think the worst of it is over. It comes to my attention that I have not paid any mind to my faithful Wortbeast, not a single thought since I first headed in to the mist. I had her keeping up the rear and did not once check on her.
When I look behind me she is not there. I cannot even see enough through the mist to make sure she is okay. For now, I must press on. There is no way of finding her through that forsaken trap even if my life depended on it. I can only hope she could not bear the Raw Ether and is awaiting me at the far side.
The archway beckons me.
“You are sure that is where you’ve sent him?”
“I am sure of where it is that he was told to go. I am not sure that is where he currently is at this moment.”
“We cannot afford any mistakes. This could be the difference that brings Mirrahk out of the Dark Ages. I will not allow some urchin of an Archaeologist, some madman of a Weaver to jeopardize everything we have worked to accomplish.”
“Ye of little faith – he will return. We will earn our prize, and we will not have to worry for much longer than necessary.”
“He better. I do not know how much longer we have. The moons are converging, sister. The Orange is overtaking the White. If we are to succeed, it must happen quickly.”
“Remember your texts, Father Hallow. Lean on your clairvoyance and trust your instinct. There are only three like him that we know of and two have gone insane. There was no choice in this matter. It is a good bet you’ve made when you can see the outcome beforehand. Steel yourself and be the pillar of our order we need you to be.”
“Just be sure that we do not fail.”
Droplets of rain are softly tap-tapping on the lone crooked window sill of the Seer’s Queers. A small oddity and trinket shop run by Sahela Runwick in the port city of Raghasbad. The weather has turned sour from earlier in the day. It started out with rays of light and not a cloud in the sky. Sahela is sitting cross-legged on a stool in back of the store’s counter. Chin in hands, staring out the window.
She is wondering how it is she got into this mess, and what is going to come of it in the end. Her eyes keep darting to the empty baggage on the floor. She almost gets the courage to stand up and begin stuffing anything valuable she owns into it. Then stowing away in the belly of a Galleon set for pilgrimage to the Wyrdland. A place even more unknown than the Vulkland itself. Nobody ever again hears from the people who make that pilgrimage.
This may be the only opportunity that Sahela has to wipe her hands of the situation. Her eyes glance at the baggage one final time and she makes her move. Sahela stands up straight with a flash as the stool scrapes on the rotting wooden floor of her establishment. At that very moment the door opens and she is startled by the disturbance. Her hand instinctively drawn to the shiv tucked into the left sleeve of her dress.
A slender and cloaked figure slips through the doorway. Sahela cannot make out the face, but it is easy to tell this figure is a woman. The cloak clings to an hourglass frame and hides what is clearly an impressive chest. All the more pronounced by a gold amulet. It has the shape of two crescent-moons. They are facing in opposite directions and touching at the back.
The owner of the Seer’s Queers takes notice at the fact that even though it is raining at a fair pace outside, this woman’s deep maroon covering does not have a hint of dampness to it. It is as though not a single drop has fallen on it. Which of course makes no sense. Then again, light was unnaturally refusing to reflect from the cloak as well.
“Welcome to the Seer’s Queers! What oddity can I dig up for you today?” Sahela sprouts with a smile. The woman takes her hood back with a sweep that is wanting of fanfare. Underneath is a pale angular face with raised eyebrows and thin, blood-rich lips. Straight, stark white hair drapes from the crown of her head to fill the folded hood at her neck.
Sahela stiffens and clears her throat. “Ahh, hello there – it would be my pleasure to assist you again. How may I this time?”
“I am under the impression… that the man I had told you would come. Has. Did you give him the information that I provided you with? Did you give him the poem?” There is a frigidity to her voice. It could make even the most courageous individual look within themselves for comfort.
“…Yes, I have. Though he had more questions for me than I was prepared for. Also, I am afraid he did not have much trust in me as he went on his way.” Sahela makes as if she is itching her arm. Upon finishing she brings her palm back to rest on the counter.
“Do you think he had enough trust in you that he has made sense of the text and has headed to the library?”
“I am not sure it truly mattered whether he trusted in me or not, Ma’am. There was determination there I don’t believe an army of Forsooth could deter.” There is clear perspiration on Sahela’s forehead at this point. To call it intimidating would be an insult to this woman’s aura.
“Good. We will be in touch then.” The woman gracefully brings her hood back up as she turns for the door and leaves.
Sahela crumples to the counter top with exasperated relief.
It is quiet. All that I can hear is the dripping of condensation that collects on the ceiling and walls of this place. I am alone, with naught but my curiosity and fear as companions. Once I had stepped through the archway I felt a cleansing wash over me. My mind is now no longer fuzzy and I feel less bombarded by my own thoughts. Now is as good a time as any to remove from my vest pocket and re-read the poem that attractive seer gave to me:
Down below the trees of the Vulk
In books and blasphemies plans are placed
Through the mist and further the spiral
Beware the box it is carefully cased
Looking at it now, it feels like I was insane to head this direction in the first place. Such vague details to go on! The pieces seem to fit though. I am in a forest in the Vulkands, and within a place that holds ‘books and blasphemies’. I had just recently passed through mist, and staring me straight on was a spiral stone stairway that continued my descent.
I’ve come this far, no sense in turning back now. I assure myself as I take each smooth stone step farther down into the bowels of this decrepit nightmare. The stairs go on for a long while. I make sure to take count so as to know how far I have traveled. Also, to check on my mental stability as I delve towards my goal.
At this point I have descended a total of 743 steps. The end is approaching however, as I can see light seeping around the corner. There is now another archway. I take a look at my torch again to check how much time I have. It is still burning as brightly as it was during my passing through the mist. As I walk through the archway I can feel the difference of air pressure. For the first time since I was above ground I am in a large and mostly open room. To my left I can see an unlit brazier. I walk over to it and begin to light it with my torch. One brazier being lit grants enough light to present more to me. I take the time to search out every one and give them life.
When I finish my rounds of the room it is completely lit up. So much so that for the time being my torch is no longer needed. I tuck it in to the sconce near the archway I entered from. This way I can have a free hand. I turn around to take in what it is I have discovered, for the first time.
As I suspected originally; I am in a room larger than any standing building of the current era. The Galleons docked at Raghasbad could fit lengthwise four by each and widthwise two by each. Its enormity was enhanced by the immense pillars bespeckling the room to keep the high roof from crashing down upon my head. Each pillar itself is the circumference of standard housing for a family of five.
On the far side and very center of the room is the single largest attraction, a statue of a humanoid figure. I cannot easily say what the statue is made of. It seems of metal, but of what kind I do not know. It is not a terribly imposing figure. It is very skinny, the legs and arms are barely any thicker than skin on bone. It is wearing rags on its crossed legs for clothing. Its arms come together outwardly at the center of its chest. Hands open, each making a “C” shape. With one just crisscrossing past the other. Were one hand not in front of each other, the backs of the palms would be touching. I study up past the bare and skeletal sternum to the face.
I admit, it is the face that gives me chills. The bald angular brow protrudes inhumanly, it is sharp and aggressive. There is a deep, jagged scar across the crooked downturned nose. The creature has no lips, just jagged teeth and gums. Lastly, there are no ears. Just two holes, one on each side of the head. I falter at any attempt I make to look away. It is terrifying, but I know there is something important I am missing.
My eyes are drawn back to the brow. Sitting at the top of it I can make out a box. Beware the box it is carefully cased – That’s it! I’ve found it! My heart pounds with the excitement of reaching my quarry. Now that I no longer need to see the entire figure I start towards the statue to begin climbing it.
I place my hand on the cool surface of the effigy and it reacts to my touch. The emerald metallic surface ripples in response. This is incredible! I need a sample! I turn behind me to reach into my pack and… I am reminded that Pike is not currently with me. With no way to go in to my equipment to procure a sample I do the next best thing and scrape the exterior with my fingernail. I attempt to, at any rate.
There is no scraping to be had, I feel nothing underneath my nail as I repeatedly and harshly scratch against the statue. I only succeed at making hundreds of ripples throughout it. How very odd. I muse within myself as I pace nearby. After a short moment of not being able to even hypothesize what I was dealing with – I decide to try my ascent.
My first instinct is to give it a running start. The room is quite long so it is made easy. I position myself around 50 paces directly in front of statue where the legs cross and at the lowest point of contact possible. I do not want to damage my equipment in the attempt, so I remove the Lantern and sword from my belt.
With a deep breath I push off my left foot and stride towards my goal as quickly as I can. I throw all of my energy into each pounding of my feet on the dusty marble. I can feel my thighs straining as I give it all I have. When I am 3 meters from the statue I push off my right foot, I can feel my Achilles almost snap from the amount of effort put in to it. My outstretched hand slaps over the crest of a shin.
It makes no sound.
There is no grip! Just like when I tried to scrape at it with my nail. I cannot physically interact with it! Races through my mind as I tumble towards the floor and land flat on my back with a thump.
“Ooohhhhh – Dhhhhheeeaarrr” The pain forces me to lay in silence after that for a good, long while. My focus is transfixed on how I can get to the box. Or get the box to me. Each way I approach the matter leads me to the same conclusion. The box was designed to be obtained in one way only.
I must Ether-Weave. The thought sends chills down my spine. Pike is not currently with me so I have no way of being defended when the Sickness forces me in to a stupor. My biggest worry is that the statue, being so similar to the mist, is a dense, Raw Ether. The likes of which I or anyone has never encountered before. The repercussions of a weave could be exponentially exacerbated by any interaction with it.
There is no question that this map was left here with purpose, designed to only be procured by a Weaver. The gauntlet of torn realities that I could be put through very well could put an end to my ability to function. If I want to continue forward with my goals there is no turning back.
I get up and retrieve my lantern. I decide it would be best to be sitting down for this, and move to sit cross-legged about five yards in front of the statue. Sweat is beading on my forehead, my heart is pumping furiously at the thought of attempting to Weave this much and be so alone while doing so. The lamp is placed in front of me. Moving towards it I open up the window on the Ether Lamp and begin to concentrate. This time closing my eyes. At first I begin to focus on the box and try to nudge it a little. I can feel that there is no movement so I begin to push harder with my thoughts. There continues to be no movement and it becomes all too clear to me that what I feared must be the case. I must manipulate the figure itself, manipulate raw Ether and risk all sanity to move the box.
I’ve already earned myself a hazy mind. When I open my eyes all is blurry and my vision is filled with swirls of the colors within the room. Thankfully the figure is large enough that I can still make out most, if not all the details.
My head is spinning. It makes it difficult to concentrate. I focus on the figure’s hands, I want them to separate and move towards the box to pick it up. I’ve decided to keep my eyes closed in the hopes that it helps with my hallucinations. The Ether is heavy, I can feel it slowly moving and adjusting in the way my thoughts provoke it to. With each passing moment of my concentration I can feel a weightlessness enter my physical frame. My arms especially lose most of their feeling. Then I hear a clink and that signals to me that the hands have reached their position on either side of the box.
The sickness is getting worse. Even with my eyes closed there are spots and colors going every which way within my “vision” – the blackness I was using to keep my wits about me is starting to become as much a hindrance that keeping my eyes open would have been. Keep pushing – I think to myself as a large bead of sweat drips off my brow and smacks on the marble floor breaking an otherwise uncomfortable silence.
I risk opening an eye to double check my progress, just to see if the hands have contacted the box as I was comfortable to assume. As I suspected, there is not much that can be made out. The Sickness has not affected my ability to be aware mentally, but looking at the physical world is like looking through bubbled glass. From what I can tell the figure has shifted, what I can make out as arms do seem to be above the head now with hands touching at the top. That is all I can make out as the room has become a series of dancing colors and movement all around me. The Braziers that I lit earlier are waltzing back and forth like leaves in the wind. I mustn’t lose my concentration.
I take a deep breath for my final push – concentrating on the hands bringing the box down level in front of me. As I push harder and harder the weightlessness encompasses my whole body. It feels as though my head may release from my neck and fly into the ceiling. Now all extremities out to my toes and fingertips are completely numb. I am just a mind, a mind beginning to forget where I am and what I am doing.
The colors within my eyelids are zipping to and fro at a pace that is dizzying, sickening even. There is little I can do to keep concentration focused so I open my eyes.
Whatever progress I have made is forgotten the moment I see what is in front of me. The face, in all its terror is only a few inches from mine. The eyes have become hollow sockets with all manner of insects crawling out of every orifice. The teeth are dripping in a black substance and I can feel a hot breath being exhaled. I turn to run away as quickly as possible from this terrifying effigy.
My limbs being both numb and weak slip out from under me almost immediately causing me to smack headfirst into the ground.